67’s Torched By Uplifted Petes

The Peterborough Petes made headlines this week when the Anaheim Ducks announced that they were sending forward Mason McTavish back to the Ontario Hockey League. He hasn’t yet made his debut and the Ottawa 67’s didn’t have to deal with him on Sunday afternoon, but it’s safe to say that the Petes had some extra motivation going into the game. The 67’s lost their previous two games and were looking to avoid being swept on the weekend, but that would prove to be a tough challenge. They got scored on early and often, eventually losing 9-3 in a game they couldn’t get out of their own way. It was an extremely tough weekend, and the first time in a long time they have fallen victim to the weekend sweep.

67’s Feed Petes Chances

From the start of the game, the 67’s were making mistakes all over the ice. Just over three minutes into the game, they were already down two goals and had been to the penalty box once. Once the bleeding started, the only thing that was able to stop it was the final buzzer.

“They just got to the net way too easy,” said Dave Cameron, the 67’s head coach. “We fed it today. Peterborough played a good game certainly not taking anything away from them, but we didn’t help ourselves today.”

The Petes’ better players had a field day against the 67’s young roster. Big days from Joe Carroll, J.R. Avon, and Emmett Sproule had Ottawa chasing their tails all day and it allowed some of their younger players to have big games. Among the most impressive were Nick Lardis, Sam Alfano, and Tucker Robertson.

Sam Alfano Peterborough Petes
Sam Alfano, Peterborough Petes (Ken Andersen / Peterborough Petes)

“It was definitely a tough weekend, you never want to lose three games in a row,” said veteran forward Cam Tolnai. “I thought we played a lot better this weekend. There are some other games like our [game against Mississauga] where we lost 3-0 but we weren’t in the game at all. I just think some untimely penalties and discipline is a big thing for us right now. Were taking some penalties that we can avoid.”

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In this game, the 67’s got away from their game. They couldn’t possess the puck in the offensive zone, they couldn’t transition back to the defensive zone, they didn’t get good goaltending, and they never made their chances on offence. For the team, getting back to their brand of hockey is the key.

“We just have to have a good start and play our game,” said Tolnai. “When we are good on the forecheck and we are rolling lines, we’re a team that’s hard to play against. The offence is going to come. Not every night we’re going to score six goals, we’re a team that’s going to grind games out and win lower-scoring games. Just play our game and stick to what we know.”

67’s Tough Weekend

There has been much to make about a very tough weekend for the 67’s, but not everything has been negative. There have been plenty of positives to come out of their three-game losing streak, particularly in their road games against the North Bay Battalion and the Sudbury Wolves.

In North Bay [we played] a real good game,” said Cameron. “We went up to North Bay, played real good, it was 1-0 late into the third and they scored a power-play goal, and then they got the third one. A lot of good things came out of that game. Went into Sudbury and had a real good first period. We were up until they scored with four minutes left in the first period, but I don’t think they had a [scoring] chance. We had a chance but didn’t get one, the second period we took penalties that wore us down, and then it became a bit of a crapshoot after that.”

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

“It’s an opportunity,” he continued. “We were away for two games, but we stayed overnight in Sudbury and travelled home Saturday, so that’s not a tough day. We come in here today and it’s an opportunity for our young guys. When I look at the goals and the mistakes that we made, we fed it. Peterborough got to the net, they played fast, and for some of the young guys, I think they got a realization of how good this league is.”

These kinds of weekends happen to teams, especially those who are rebuilding. The early-season success may have made that rebuild tough to see, but it is happening. The losing streak has really changed things in the standings and their eighth-place ranking in the CHL Top 10 will certainly be gone, but there shouldn’t be alarm bells ringing just yet. This was bound to happen eventually and it was aided by the injury situation, too.

67’s Injury Situation

Right now, the 67’s have numerous key veteran players who are out with injuries and have been forced to play some of their younger players far more frequently than they would have been hoping. They have gotten to the point where another injury or suspension would require them to call someone up as the entire list of scratches are either injured or suspended.

“Thomas Johnston came back for about a period,” Cameron said. “[Adam] Varga I think is more day-to-day and I think [Jack] Beck is week-to-week. [Ranvir] Gill-Shane is probably closer to day-to-day.”

Jack Beck Ottawa 67s
Jack Beck Ottawa 67s (Josh Kim / The Hockey Writers)

“You’re forced to play your younger guys when your older guys are hurt, but that’s an opportunity for them,” said Cameron. “I didn’t think they seized it enough.”

The situation has forced the young players to step up into bigger roles, of course, but it has also put a little more pressure on some of the remaining veterans. Their leadership role has expanded with so many young faces around them, but the reliance on them for offence has also been there.

“You just gotta play your game,” said Tolnai. “You gotta help those young guys build their roles because eventually, they are going to be the leaders on the team. It’s just an opportunity for those guys right now especially on forward because we’ve got the injury bug and some suspensions, so I think it’s just a lull right now and we gotta get back to it next weekend.”

Young 67’s Step Up

With all of the veterans missing, pressure has been applied to the youngsters to step up and be leaders much faster than anticipated. Chris Barlas, Will Gerrior, and Brady Stonehouse all received praise from their coach and teammates and have played some of their best hockey in the past week or so, particularly Barlas who has been one of Ottawa’s best forwards despite a minimal point production.

“Barlas has been a real competitor for us,” said Cameron. “Will Gerrior has played his best hockey in the last couple of games. I think they have all played better, I don’t think there is anyone who has regressed, but part of coaching young guys is protecting them a little bit. When you are down on numbers, it’s hard to do that sometimes.”

Chris Barlas Ottawa 67's
Chris Barlas, Ottawa 67’s (Frankie Benvenuti / The Hockey Writers)

“I think Chris Barlas has really stepped up into a bigger role on the team,” said Tolnai. “I think he leads our team in hits right now. He’s playing a physical game. Were probably the smallest forward core in the league, so he’s adding that physical aspect with Brady Stonehouse, too. I think those two guys are bringing a dynamic to our team that we don’t really have right now.”

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All season long, we have seen their young players playing at a high level, but when they have been put under pressure to perform, some have risen to the challenge. For those who haven’t been able to, it just shows that they aren’t as ready as the ones who have been. As Cameron said, everyone is taking steps forward and no one has regressed. Everyone will be better for it when they do get their veterans back.

Next Weekend Might be Even Tougher

It’s hard to imagine a weekend being tougher for the 67’s, but that could be the case. With the Capital City Challenge starting next weekend, they will lose Barlas (Team White) and Luca Pinelli (Team Red) as they play each other (and Team Black) and the Women’s National Team. If they don’t get some of their injured players back, there could be some call-ups to come. Things get even more interesting when you see Collin MacKenzie leave the game late with an apparent injury, leaving them with only Will Cranley for the time being. We could see some new faces on the team next weekend unless the training staff have some kind of magic wand to wave for instant health.

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