67’s Fall to Battalion, But Show Their Potential

The 67’s returned to action at TD Place in Ottawa for the first time since defeating the Niagara Ice Dogs 9-1 on March 10, 2020, in an Ontario Hockey League preseason game against the rising North Bay Battalion. The 67’s have looked decent in their first two preseason games, but things haven’t meshed together just yet. After a tough loss in Kingston where the team looked good at times and disjointed at others, it was much the same on Friday night against the Battalion, but there was plenty to like from a young and undermanned 67’s side.

Max Donoso Stands Tall Despite Losing

Starting with a positive, Max Donoso, one of the 67’s rookie goaltenders, looked stellar despite allowing three goals in what would be a losing effort for the youngster. On paper, three goals on 20 shots don’t look all that great; the stats don’t tell the whole story in this instance. There were more than a couple of times where Donoso was hung out to dry by an errant pass by one of his defencemen that resulted in an odd-man rush by the Battalion. Donoso stood tall in those cases and ensured that the score wasn’t as ugly as it easily could have been.

Max Donoso, Ottawa 67's
Max Donoso, Ottawa 67’s (Frankie Benvenuti, The Hockey Writers)

“We didn’t give up a lot of shots in the third period, but they were quality chances when we were trying to come back when it was 3-2 in the third period,” said Dave Cameron, the head coach of the 67’s. “Max made some good saves. I thought it was a good showing for Max.”

One of the most impressive things about the play of Donoso on the night was both his poise, and by extension of that, his rebound control. This isn’t the first time I’ve noted this with him since first seeing him in training camp. In a previous article, I mentioned that the world’s best goaltenders rarely put a puck right back where it came from therefore limiting the number of second chances. That has been something that he has excelled at early in his time with the 67’s, and if he can continue down that path, he’s giving himself an excellent chance to be a starting goalie at the OHL level.

Masterful Moments

The final score might not reflect it, but the 67’s carried the pace of play for a good portion of the game, including nearly the entire second period. The difference in controlling the game for the 67’s came down to their fast-paced style of play and physicality, but they still aren’t at the level when they can bring it on every single shift. It’s coming along, albeit slowly, but this is progress from what we have seen in the previous two games.

“It’s a physical sport and it’s something that you can use to your advantage if you’re in the right spot,” said Cameron. “The league has done a good job at taking out the instances where players get hurt, but I expect my team to be physical. It’s not about just running around to get a hit, it’s about when the hit is there, you take it. I thought it was alright tonight, considering it’s been a year and a half since a lot of these guys have been competitive.”

“It’s something we’ve been preaching in camp and the exhibition games,” continued Cameron. “It’s something I think we will get better at as the league moves on and we go forward.”

Some of the physical play was carried by the expected sources, including Vsevolod Gaidamak, Teddy Sawyer, Ranvir Gill-Shane, and Thomas Johnston. Still, credit needs to be given to some of the smaller, unexpected sources as well. Luca Pinelli was once again one of the 67’s best players on the ice, but it was more than just his flashy talent and goal-scoring that made him an impact player in the game.

Luca Pinelli, Ottawa 67's
Luca Pinelli, Ottawa 67’s (Frankie Benvenuti, The Hockey Writers)

Pinelli, who is listed at just 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds according to the OHL, was throwing his body around with every chance he had. He was hard to push off the puck, thanks of course, to his speed and skill, but also a willingness to take and give out hits. This can also be attributed to Brenden Sirizzotti, who was another player who was really good on Friday night. If the game plan includes physicality, you need the players to buy-in, and so far, it looks like that is happening for Cameron.

Stonehouse Shows Flashes

Throughout training camp, Brady Stonehouse has looked like a player that the 67’s will build around in the future. He’s the kind of player you can rely on to work hard, get to the dirty areas, and score the cheap goals when you need it the most. On Friday night, he scored his first goal of the preseason in the only way you would expect from him, a net-front scramble.

It’s no surprise that Stonehouse found himself tapping the puck into the open net, considering he spends the majority of his time waiting for that exact moment. Still, he knows that is a strength in his game, and he knows that where he needs to be for him to be at his very best.

“That’s the type of player I am,” said Stonehouse. “I like to get to the dirty areas and when you go to those dirty areas, you get rewarded.”

Brady Stonehouse, Ottawa 67's
Brady Stonehouse, Ottawa 67’s (Frankie Benvenuti, The Hockey Writers)

There’s still a long way to go before Stonehouse is a top scorer in the OHL, but he will come into the season as a leader on the team despite being in his rookie season. As a player entering his draft year, he needs to find a way to overcome a lost season that would have been used to get his feet wet in the league and get right to business. He has been all work so far, and if anyone can come in and make it work, he might be it.

Some Cleaning Up to Do

Even though there was plenty to like for the 67’s on Friday night against the Battalion, there is plenty to be worked on before the season starts in October. Much of it likely comes down to players just not being on the same page yet, but it’s hard to imagine how they could be when the team has so many new faces who have never played with one another before.

“It’s our third exhibition game and I thought we were better than we were in the first two games,” said Cameron. “I didn’t like our first period tonight, I thought we were very sloppy with the puck, but I thought we were much better in the second and the third.”

Missing many of their key veterans, the 67’s have been looking to find their groove with more than their fair share of young players on the roster. As Cameron is quick to point out, things have gotten better, but things are still happening that show just how inexperienced the team really is. From throwing the puck across the middle of the ice to no one and giving up a breakaway to losing track of where the passing options are in the offensive zone, and even some poor line changes. But this is the preseason, and it would be even weirder if there were no issues or iron out.

Swiftly Moving Onwards

Neither team has very long to recover as both prepare to clash again on Saturday afternoon, this time at the North Bay Memorial Gardens. The puck drops at 4 PM, with both teams releasing their lineups later in the day. Expect to see Colin MacKenzie in the net for the 67’s again.