The Ottawa 67’s of the Ontario Hockey League finished opening weekend on a high after beating the Oshawa Generals in a laugher, but their rematch just a few days later was a much different story. The Generals brought the pace and played much better, while the 67’s frankly didn’t look very good at all. Certainly, some positive aspects of the game will be unpacked, but there were just as many, if not more, negative aspects of the game. The Generals won the game by a score of 4-1, but much like the game on Monday wasn’t as the scoreboard would make it appear, the scoreboard makes the game look more favorable than it was for the 67’s on Friday night.
Will Cranley Coming Up Clutch
Over the past three games, the 67’s have gotten great goaltending out of both Will Cranley and Colin MacKenzie, but on Friday night, it was Cranley’s turn to put in a solid performance that gave his team a chance to win. Time and time again, he would come up huge, making a massive save or even a series of saves, including one chance in the second period at the net mouth after giving the puck away. He came sprawling back across the ice to make a diving save and critically keeping the score knotted at one.
“[Cranley] is the best goalie I’ve ever played with, or at least close to it,” said 67’s forward Adam Varga. “Knowing he’s back there, he’s a really good safety net right there. We didn’t play for him today; we lost it. He made all the saves we needed him to make, and we just gotta help him back there.”
Cranley stopped 28 of the 31 shots directed towards him, but none of the three goals he allowed was his fault. There were breakdowns around him and chances galore for the Generals, and without him, the game could have been much uglier than it ended up being. Since he was pulled from the season opener in Kingston, Cranley has been sharp and if he can continue to play well, the 67’s will be over the moon with their goaltending tandem.
67’s Lacked Energy
The first couple of minutes in the first period had the 67’s looking in near-complete control of things while the Generals were searching for answers, but something changed soon after. Trying to think of the perfect word for the 67’s on the night isn’t easy. They weren’t lazy, nor were they simply outplayed, but they were rather outworked. Perhaps they were a little bit casual, and they certainly lacked the energy they played with in their previous two home games.
“I thought we had a good start tonight, but we weren’t able to sustain it,” said Dave Cameron, the head coach of the 67’s. “I thought we were sloppy transitioning the puck, I thought at first we were really good, the puck was on our stick, we were moving it, guys were open, and we were going north. We got a little bit sloppy, pucks got hopping. We tried bringing them back, but they sat on top of us and played the patient game, and waited. They were able to get that second goal to go ahead and that was the difference.”
“You know you’re going to give up a goal or two,” he continued. “It’s not all on Matier (in reference to the first goal of the game from the Generals). He dropped the puck, but [Jack] Beck had a chance to run into the guy and he didn’t. Your power play can’t give up a goal, I mean, that kind of gave them a little bit of momentum and it shifted a little bit. There’s going to be momentum swings in a game and we didn’t do a very good job handling it. It was more for me about our execution.”
Early in the season, we have seen excellent performances throughout the league, followed by weak ones (or vice versa). This isn’t something unique to the 67’s, and it’s not coming as a surprise with how young teams in the league are this season. With the missed 2020-21 season, many players simply didn’t have enough ice time to come out and be expected to perform at their peak, at least early in the season.
“With this layoff and the lack of games for players, to close this 18-month gap, you have to practice,” said Cameron. “That’s what we have been preaching. That whole consistency through practice, especially for the young guys that we have this year, practices are their games. That’s where they have to learn the pace, the speed of the game. We have really been preaching that practices are huge.”
Being as early as we are in the return to play for the OHL, it’s something that every team needs to sort out. The plan couldn’t be any more clear for Cameron and the 67’s. Getting on the ice, getting experience, and of course, practicing are the only ways to ensure that the choppy, casual games are erased from the 67’s dressing room.
Luca Pinelli Makes Presence Felt In Debut
The 67’s opened their season without two of the top draft choices in 2021, Chris Barlas and Luca Pinelli. Barlas remains out of the lineup with a non-COVID-related illness, but Pinelli made his season debut for the 67’s on Friday night. Through training camp and the preseason, Pinelli showed what a phenomenally talented young player he is and it’s frankly a shame that he wasn’t able to play the opening weekend. Such is life when you play sports, but it seems that he was out looking to make up for lost time in his OHL debut.
“Good player, yea, good player,” said Cameron when talking about Pinelli’s debut. “He sees the ice well, he’s a smart kid, he’s engaged, he’s physical for a young guy. I like him.”
Although he didn’t hit the scoresheet, there were a couple of times where he easily could have had the puck bounced the right way for him. He had a shot that rang off the crossbar that will be in the net more often than not in his career. Pinelli was not one of the players that had low energy on Friday night. He was playing with a sense of urgency that only a few other players on the roster seemed to have. You don’t want to freak out about his ceiling or anything just yet, but it looks like Pinelli, who was a second-round pick, will make a lot of teams regret passing on him earlier in the draft.
No Time to Dwell
The 67’s don’t have the luxury of a couple of days of rest and relaxation before their next game, with the Sudbury Wolves coming to town on Sunday afternoon. The Wolves themselves have been on a bit of a losing streak after winning their first two games of the season and will be hoping to avoid a fourth consecutive loss.
“Again, we just have to bring that 67’s brand of hockey,” said Varga. “Play hard, stay consistent all throughout the game. We have to play hard throughout all three periods. The inconsistency can’t happen again. We’re a young team, it’s still the start of the season, so we’ll definitely develop and cut that out soon.”
Currently a journalism student at Algonquin College in Ottawa, I have always had a passion for the OHL and the Ottawa 67’s in particular. I have been attending games since I was young, and being involved with sports has always been a dream of mine. Sports writing fits perfectly into that. You can also find me talking and writing other sports (primarily Canadian football) on my website 13thmansports.ca!