67’s Trip to Kingston Yields Mixed Bag of Results

On Saturday evening, the Ottawa 67’s headed to Kingston to take on the Frontenacs in their second Ontario Hockey League preseason game of 2021. While the score may suggest that they were completely out-classed, in reality, the story is a little bit different. The Frontenacs won the game by a score of 5-1, powered by their goaltender Mason Vaccari having a stellar game. There is plenty of reasons for the 67’s fans to be optimistic, but not everything was fantastic from their side on the night.

Import Players Like Gaidamak Look Like Game Changers

In the past couple of weeks, the 67’s received commitments from two of their import players. Vinzenz Rohrer comes to the team after being the 27th overall selection at the 2021 Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Import Draft, and Vsevolod Gaidamak was selected 57th overall in the 2021 CHL Import Draft. Both players have the making of being difference makers at the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) level, although they have only seen action in one preseason game so far, and it might take some time.

The lone goal of the game for the 67’s came courtesy of Gaidamak, but the heavy lifting was done by Luca Pinelli to set him up for an easy tap-in at the side of the net. However, he was in the right spot and gave himself the chance to be on the receiving end of nice plays all night. They say that you can’t teach hockey sense, and that doesn’t look like it will be an issue for the Russian forward.

Vsevolod Gaidamak, Ottawa 67's
Vsevolod Gaidamak, Ottawa 67’s (Photo by Jon Halpenny / Ottawa 67’s)

“Vsevolod is a solid two-way forward, who plays a power game,” 67’s general manager James Boyd said, “His style of play and wealth of international experience will make him a quality addition to our lineup.”

Gaidamak hails from Khabarovsk, Russia, and spent 2020-21 with Spartak St. Petersburg U18 and Omskie Yastreby in the MHL. In 35 games between the two teams, he scored 17 goals and added 16 assists for 33 points. He also played six games with the Russian U18 team in the World U18 Championship in 2021 in Texas, where he scored three points and won a silver medal.

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As for Rohrer, he was one of the best, if not the best, player on the ice for the 67’s in Kingston. He isn’t a big player compared to many of his peers, but he is an offensive weapon that the 67’s will love having on their team. When he was on the ice on Saturday night, things were happening on the offensive side of the ice. He didn’t get on the score sheet, but that will come for Rohrer in due time.

“Vinzenz is a competitive, skilled player with a high hockey IQ,” said Boyd.

Naturally, Rohrer is going to draw a comparison to fellow countryman Marco Rossi. Rohrer and Rossi share essentially the same path to the OHL and even share somewhat of a similar style on the ice. In 2020-21, Rohrer captained the U17 ZSC Lions and spent time with the U20 GCK Lions. He was very impressive statistically, scoring 47 points in 26 U17 games and adding seven more points in 22 U20 games. Now another year bigger, faster, and stronger, Rohrer looks like he will be a big piece to the puzzle for the 67’s in 2021-22.

After having Rossi and Nikita Okhotyuk solidified into their two import roles for the past couple of seasons, the 67’s have swiftly found quality replacements that will be important pieces to their team both this season and in the future. It is a significant boost to a team that looked like they might be lacking some scoring ability before the pair of imports came to town.

Some Rookie Troubles

Many of the 67’s veteran players are missing the game either to attend NHL Rookie Camp or for other reasons. Among those missing for the 67’s included Jack Beck (Calgary Flames), Jack Matier (Nashville Predators), Will Cranley (St. Louis Blues), Brenden Sirizzotti (Montreal Canadiens), and Teddy Sawyer, all players that will have an important piece to play for the 67’s this season. On the other side of the ice, the Frontenacs were missing quite a few pieces, but their best player in Shane Wright was there. Minus Francesco Arcuri, Martin Chromiak, Braden Haché, Leevi Merilainen, Ethan Ritchie, and Zayde Wisdom, the Frontenacs, still iced a competitive team that was going to push the 67’s youngsters to their limit early in their return to play.

Some players met the match head-on, while others still have some work to do before they can go toe-to-toe with some of the league’s best. Two players that I have been singing the praise of all training camp long in Chris Barlas and Brady Stonehouse, had quiet nights. They had their moments where it looked like they might be able to get things going, but they were kept in check by the Fronts for the whole game.

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

Around the rink, others had relatively tough nights, including Steven Laforme, Will Gerrior, Cooper Foster, Bradley Gardiner, and Derek Smyth. Against live competition, it’s hard to hide if you have a tough game, and that’s exactly what we saw. There were more players who made a couple of sloppy plays, but in general, these young players were the ones making the most mistakes.

Here’s the good news on this front. It’s the preseason, and it’s almost designed for this exact thing to happen. You can tell for some of these players that it has been a long time since they have hit the ice, and even more, you can tell that these players haven’t been together for very long yet. The rookies didn’t look fully settled into things just yet for the most part. They were making blind passes across the middle of the ice, turning the puck over, and hesitating to make some plays. These players have looked good in camp up until now, and it’s pretty clear they are playing with more confidence in the scrimmage games. It’s going to take time.

Pressure Makes Diamonds

With Matier and Sawyer missing this game and Thomas Sirman being ejected for fighting early in the game, the 67’s turned to rookie Matthew Mayich early and often in this game, and he met the challenge and passed with flying colors. For a large part of this game, the 67’s held Wright in check, and even though he scored a point in the game, he wasn’t even on the ice when the goal was scored. It’s still going to show up in the box score as an assist for Wright, but that never happened.

Matthew Mayich, Ottawa 67's
Matthew Mayich, Ottawa 67’s (Frankie Benvenuti, The Hockey Writers)

Mayich was the 67’s fourth-round selection in the 2020 OHL Priority Selection, who now stands at 6-foot-2 and 179 pounds. When he was drafted, he was a little on the smaller side, but he has grown into his frame nicely. Now, he is a physical player who seems to understand exactly how to defend his own end of the ice. Not only did he look good in his own zone, but he also looked like a player who could be a threat to score on the offensive side of the ice in the right circumstance.

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All around, Mayich’s game was very impressive. As for Sirman, who was ejected, he fits the same kind of mold and has played very well through training camp up to now. The missed game gave everyone a little less time to evaluate him, and it would have been nice to see him in the pressure cooker, but he will have his chance later this week.

Offensively, Pinelli stood out as a player who could impact every time he is on the ice. He only registered a single point in the game on the goal by Gaidamak, but the goal wouldn’t have been scored without his fantastic feed. He had another shot or two that he rang off the crossbar. Pinelli was very impressive, and it won’t be long before 67’s take a liking to the kid.

67’s Rebuild Will Require Patience

There were plenty of reasons to be encouraged by the 67’s trip to Kingston, but at the same time, it’s evident that it’s going to take some time to all come together. The good news for the 67’s is that they have plenty of time before the puck is dropped for real on October 8. The young players who were held in check have shown they are talented players, and there should be no cause for concern. The score in this game wasn’t exactly telling of how the game was played, but sometimes you just get beat. The 67’s are back in action on September 24 against the Frontenacs at TD Place in Ottawa.

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