The Ottawa 67’s of the Ontario Hockey League have been red hot as of late, even without the team’s leading goal scorer, Jack Beck. Sitting atop the Eastern Conference standings, they departed for their Thursday night clash with the North Bay Battalion more undermanned than before. The last time these two teams met, it was the 67’s walking away with two points after a penalty shot goal from Dylan Robinson, but they wouldn’t be so lucky this time around. For the second time in as many weeks, the 67’s lost a game 3-0, a less than ideal way to kick off the weekend.
Bélanger In, Varga, Beck, Johnston Out
When the lineup was released before the game, there were multiple important things to take note of, but we can start with the positive. For the first time in 2021-22, Alec Bélanger got into a game after undergoing hand surgery before the season. His return adds a much-needed level of experience on the blue line. Bélanger comes back to the lineup, having played 88 games in the league and scoring 40 points.
Looking at the amount of time Bélanger has spent on the ice since the pandemic, you wouldn’t be too surprised if he had a slow start to the season. However, it was anything but for him on Thursday night as he looked like the veteran defenceman that the 67’s need him to be. It can’t be overstated just how important it was to get Bélanger back in general, but for this weekend in particular when so many other things have gone wrong.
To start the negative, Thomas Johnston has been suspended for a slew foot penalty he was given last weekend in Oshawa. The penalty was questionable, to say the least, and it looked more like a collision rather than an intentional and dangerous play. Still, regardless, the penalty was called and by rule is automatically a match penalty and carries a two-game suspension. He will also be missing the game in Sudbury on Friday.
Adam Varga, the lone over-ager on the roster, is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. If you look only at the stat sheet, you might not think that losing Varga is as big of a blow as it is, considering he hasn’t been scoring at a crazy pace this season, but we’re talking about the 67’s oldest player and their only 20-year old. For such a young team, losing that experience is difficult and Dave Cameron doesn’t have that veteran forward to look to when the going gets tough.
Finally, the 67’s are still without the player that many consider their best forward in Beck. He has been off to a torrid start to the season scoring 11 goals and adding another six assists in his first 12 games. Three of their veteran forwards didn’t get to play in the game, meaning the already very young 67’s side was even younger. Going up against a talented Battalion team, they were up against it from the word go. The team won’t use it as an excuse, but it’s evident that it was a massive factor on Thursday night.
Ranvir Gill-Shane Leaves With Injury
Towards the end of the second period, Ranvir Gill-Shane was hit hard along the boards and left the game with some kind of injury immediately after. There is yet to be any kind of update from the team regarding what precisely the issue might be or even if the injury has been resolved, but should Gill-Shane be forced to miss some time, the team might be put under some pressure.
Coming into the game in North Bay, there was only one healthy player who was eligible to be inserted into the lineup, and that is rookie defenceman Matthew Mayich. That would once again trade age and experience for another rookie, something the 67’s likely don’t want to have to do. They have been bit pretty hard by the injury bug this season, and it seems to be seeking out players with experience as its victims.
Will Cranley Shuts the Door
If you could look at one player on this 67’s roster that has been the most impressive this season, the answer would be clear cut; it’s Will Cranley. He sat in the backup role behind Cedrick Andree for the past couple of seasons and when he came into this season as the starter, some people questioned what he would be. The St. Louis Blues prospect has put those doubters to bed and is starting to have his name heard in the conversation of the OHL’s best goaltenders.
On Thursday night, Cranley was once again superb despite the loss. He stopped 24 of the 27 shots the Battalion directed towards him, making numerous key saves at big moments. None of the three goals that he allowed on the night were particularly bad, and you really can’t fault him for the goals he allowed, especially not when he’s making saves like these.
The wins and losses might not suggest he has been great this season, but anyone who has spent any time watching games this season knows that he has been rock solid outside of the season opener in Kingston. Each and every night, he has given the team a chance to win the game. When they get healthy, this kind of goaltending will result in wins, but with the team, the 67’s iced on Thursday night, that would have been a lot to ask of the young kids.
Onwards and Upwards
Starting the weekend slow isn’t unusual for the 67’s this season, but it wasn’t for lack of effort or poor performance this time around. They were competitive and had chances to score, but without their veterans, they just couldn’t get it done. Next up is a bus trip to Sudbury to take on the Wolves, a team the 67’s beat 7-4 when they last met. If they can score their fair share of goals, they have a good chance to take the game and come home from their northern trip with a split of points.
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!