67’s Show Their Grit With 7-4 Win Over Sudbury Wolves

Thomas Johnston notched two goals to lead the Ottawa 67’s to a 7-4 victory Sunday afternoon over the Sudbury Wolves at TD Place in the nation’s capital. The win was the Barber Pole’s third in five outings this year.

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Head Coach Dave Cameron summed up the win saying, “We were much better today (compared to Friday night’s loss to the Oshawa Generals). We were competing. We were harder on the forecheck and in front of the net. We didn’t give up a tonne of odd-man rushes”.

Ottawa 67’s Motto “No Quit” on Display

Johnston was named the game’s first star and when asked how he managed to put two goals up on the scoreboard, something he has never done before in the OHL, he explained, “I think that’s starting to be my game now. I’m not just a straight offensive goal-scorer. I play both sides and I think I played a strong defensive game tonight. I definitely have more confidence this second season in Ottawa.”

Thomas Johnston Ottawa 67's
Thomas Johnston, Ottawa 67’s (Photo by Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

The 67’s came out of the gates hard and fast on the forecheck and were rewarded with three goals in the first period, starting with a goal almost four minutes into the first frame from Adam Varga and then another nearly 10 minutes later from rookie Vinzenz (Vinny) Rohrer. With just over four minutes left in the period, the Wolves answered with a goal from Payton Robinson, who tipped a pass from rookie Quentin Musty over Ottawa twine minder Collin MacKenzie’s shoulder, narrowing Ottawa’s lead to one. 

Johnston answered back for Ottawa, restoring his team’s two-goal lead in the dying seconds of the first frame on a solo rush into Sudbury territory, zig-zagging his way toward goaltender Mitchell Weeks to bury his own rebound off a backhander. If that wasn’t enough, just over a minute into the second stanza, he lit the goal light again with a lightning bolt from the bottom of the left-side circle off a beautiful cross-ice pass from Cameron Tolnai. 

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On the powerplay, Sudbury’s Chase Stillman (yes, Corey’s son) kept Ottawa’s lead at two, beating MacKenzie on a bad-angle shot from the bottom of the right-hand circle that slid under the goal stopper’s pad and into the far side corner of the net.

The third period was a shoot-out with the 67’s Jack Beck marking the score sheet with two goals and Tolnai notching his second point of the game on a breakaway goal. The Wolves answered with three goals, one of which was a second on the night for Stillman.

Keys to the Ottawa Win

Cameron seemed pleased with his team’s effort saying, “We did a lot of good things today and got rewarded. On the goals we scored, we got pucks and bodies to the net”. Still, Cameron is under no illusions about his young team saying, “I have a very inconsistent team right now,” contrasting Friday’s 4-1 to the Oshawa Generals with their victory over Sudbury on Sunday.

Dave Cameron, Ottawa 67's
Dave Cameron, head coach of the Ottawa 67’s (Frankie Benvenuti / The Hockey Writers)

Cameron thinks that his team’s skills were on display in both games but that the difference-maker Sunday was the competitive level the team brought to the rink noting, “We made some skilled plays today but with good solid play away from the puck, some blocked shots . . . that’s the difference”.

The Barber Poles peppered the Wolves’ net with an astonishing 52 shots over three periods and that might raise questions as to why the team’s goal count wasn’t higher. Asked how he felt about the quality of the 67’s chances, Cameron replied, “I thought our quality of shots was good and we got rewarded because we had guys at the net. It made the goalie’s job tough. If you have 100 shots without net presence, you’re not going to score too many”.

Do High Scoring Games Concern the 67’s?

Asked what he thought of the game’s high score, Johnston said, “we’re definitely more defensive, but the 67’s can put the puck in the net. Our team’s talented, we’re offensive, we can do that, but we can’t let that many goals against. We don’t want to be winning 7-4, 8-4, or even 6-5. We’d rather be winning 3-1 or 3-0 and play a solid game. But if that’s what it takes (to win high scoring games), I think we can do that”.

Related: 6 Ottawa 67’s Rookies to Watch in 2021-22

Johnston sounds like he could be an acolyte of Darryl Sutter, the high priest of defensive systems in the NHL. Yet Cameron rejects the characterization of his team as being slanted either to the offense or the defense, saying, “you gotta play a 60-minute game so you might have the puck half the time. If we have the puck, we’re playing offense, so you have to adjust and switch. Our motto is the next play is the right play.”

Ottawa 67’s Veterans Step Up

Ottawa’s veterans scored six of the team’s seven goals putting up half the 18 points the team registered on Sunday and Cameron acknowledged their role, saying, “I liked my older guys tonight because I challenged them. The older guys have to step up and do it. And they did today. Johnston, Beck, Varga, Tolnai and Jack Matier were all good. They were the guys that set the tone for us. The first goal was a prime example. We threw the puck at the net and Stoner (Brady Stonehouse) was there and Varga came down on it and took some whacks at it to get it in”.

Jack Beck Toronto Marlboros
Jack Beck as a Toronto Marlboro (Dan Hickling OHL Images)

Johnston seems to understand the expectations Cameron has of him and the other experienced players on the team, saying, “this year, I felt I had to step up and fill an older guy role. But I think a lot of these younger guys all want it and know what it takes to be a ’67. We’re (the older players) keeping that same 67’s culture. That same hard grind, no-quit attitude we had two years ago. The younger guys are picking up on that”.

Solid Goaltending in Ottawa 67’s Net

MacKenzie stood tall in the Ottawa net, making 22 saves on 26 shots. Two of the four goals he allowed were on Sudbury powerplays. To be fair, he didn’t have much of a chance on either.

Colin MacKenzie, Ottawa 67's
Colin MacKenzie, Ottawa 67’s (Frankie Benvenuti / The Hockey Writers)

With the win, the rookie twine minder from Elmira, Ontario, extended his win streak to two games. There is every reason to believe that he and Will Cranley will make a strong duo in the 67’s goal crease this season. That will be key for success this year if the 67’s plan on eking out wins in low-scoring games as Johnston believes they must.

The Barber Poles Off to Good Start in 2021-22

The Barber Poles took three of four games at home this past week and will head out on the road on October 22 for a four-game road trip. If they can continue delivering the grit that Cameron wants to see, they should be able to build on what has been a very respectable start for a young team over their first five games.