Ottawa 67’s Time Machine: the Magical 2019 Playoff Run

The last time the Ottawa 67’s took the ice was on March 10, 2020, when they beat the Niagara Ice Dogs 9-1 in a game that saw Thomas Johnston score his first career goal in the OHL midway through the third period. It’s been almost a year since then, and because of the hiatus, the 67’s didn’t have a chance to rebound from their playoff loss in 2019.

Ottawa’s 2019 playoff run was special, even if it ended in heartbreak. The team created memories that will last forever, so much so that it is worth hopping into a time machine and reliving that near-historical playoffs.

Round One Vs. Hamilton Bulldogs

The 67’s drew the Hamilton Bulldogs in the first round, a rematch of their first-round loss in 2018 to the top-seeded Bulldogs. Ottawa was riding an all-time high after finishing the regular season with a 50-12-4-2 record and was looking to make quick work of Hamilton en route to a league championship that they’ve been missing since 2001.

Sasha Chmelevski Ottawa 67's
Sasha Chmelevski, Ottawa 67’s (CHL Images)

The 67’s had an early scare in Game 1, down 2-1 at the start of the second period, but the final score makes the game look like a blowout when it was actually quite close for much of it. From the second period, the 67’s took over, and they outscored Hamilton 8-2 on their way to winning Game 1. The team had planned on starting a new tradition at the end of the game if they won.

Going forward, the team was going to unveil an ‘X’ on the boards after every win in the playoffs. Some thought this idea was classless, others loved it. No matter what you believed, the 67’s players bought in and looked forward to peeling off the ‘X’ after a win.

Related: The Ottawa 67’s Will Still Be Good in 2020-21

The 67’s cruised to victory in Game 2, downing the Bulldogs 5-2, anchored by a hat trick from New Jersey Devils draft pick Graeme Clarke. Heading to Hamilton with two wins, Ottawa outlasted the Bulldogs in a low-scoring, 2-1 game. Michael DiPietro, who the 67’s acquired at the trade deadline to replace Cedrick Andree, who was having a season to remember, stopped 18 of 19 shots on the night and was named the game’s second star (from ’67’s make huge trade, acquiring goalie Michael DiPietro from Spitfires,’ Ottawa Sun, 12/05/2018).

Game 4 was the biggest blowout of the series. After Hamilton nearly got themselves back into the series in Game 3, the 67’s came out and ended the series on a mission. Ottawa peppered Zachary Roy with 21 first-period shots and scored four times to take a commanding lead. The Bulldogs managed only four shots on goal in the first period.

The 67’s won 7-2, out-shooting their opponent 45-27. The game wasn’t close, and neither was the series. Ottawa headed home and added the two X’s they had earned on the road as they waited for their second-round matchup against Quinton Byfield and the Sudbury Wolves.

Round Two Vs. Sudbury Wolves

Ottawa’s second-round matchup with the Wolves was billed as a thrilling series with stars who could go toe-to-toe. For every big name on the 67’s roster, the Wolves had one of their own. For Tye Felhaber, they had Byfield. For Sasha Chmelevski, they had David Levin. For DiPietro, they had Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. There was no question that the 67’s had more talent, but the Wolves weren’t going to be a walk in the park. Or so we thought.

Noel Hoefenmayer (Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

The series was also supposed to be a goaltending battle, but Game 1 contradicted that story. Instead of the goalies, the 67’s over-agers stole the show with Lucas Chiodo and Felhabe scoring hat tricks. The goals came free and easy from both sides, particularly after the first period. The 67’s out-lasted the Wolves in Game 1, winning 8-5 to take the series lead. But the fun was just starting. 

In Game 2, the goaltending woes were solved, but only on one side. DiPietro again took the reigns for the 67’s, earning the game’s first star after a 27-save shutout. Felhaber and Chiodo continued to do damage while Noel Hoefenmayer got in on the action scoring two goals in the game, as Ottawa defeated the Wolves 5-0. For a series that was supposed to be very close, the 67’s were making light work of the Wolves through two games.

Related: OHL Would Benefit From 24-Game Season

The routs continued in Game 3 in Sudbury. The score matched Game 1 with the 67’s taking home yet another 8-5 win as Ottawa’s over-aged players continued to have an impact. People began to take notice of Ottawa’s seven-game win streak to see if the team could make history.

Where to begin with Gae 4 of this series? You could write a book about that game alone. It was back and forth from start to finish including triple overtime. Heading into the third period, the 67’s trailed 2-1 after the Wolves scored two consecutive goals courtesy of Adam Ruzicka and Nolan Hutcherson. One of the 67’s over-agers, Kyle Maksimovich, scored early in the third period to tie the game for Ottawa. Are you getting tired of the over-agers yet? Well, the roles they played were that big.

After 110 minutes 15 seconds and 123 total shots, Felhaber scored to win the game as the 67’s had extended their playoff win streak to eight. But, more importantly, they had advanced to the OHL’s third round for the first time since 2012 when they lost to the Ice Dogs.

Round Three Vs. Oshawa Generals

The series against the Generals was also expected to be close. Oshawa was fresh off a second-round upset of the Ice Dogs despite unloading some of their best talents at the trade deadline, including Jack Studnika who was traded to those same Ice Dogs. You can make the case that the Generals were more interested in preparing for the 2020-21 season when they were making a bid to host the Memorial Cup, but thanks to the pandemic, that didn’t happen. 

Kody Clark Ottawa 67's
Kody Clark of the Ottawa 67’s. (Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

Game 1 of the series was a little bit closer than the 67’s expected and, heading into the third period, it looked like their playoff win streak might end. Two goals from Brandon Saigeon within a minute of each other at the end of the second period had Oshawa in front 4-2 with 20 minutes left to play. Then, the 67’s did what they do best, scored goals. Mitch Hoelscher, Chmelevski, Hoefenmayer, and Kody Clark all scored in the final 13 minutes to take Game 1.

DiPietro looked shaky at times, and while he was the reason the 67’s won some of the previous games, fans were growing frustrated and they called for Andree to be put back in net. After all, Andree finished the season with a 2.48 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage. The 67’s stuck with DiPietro. He had championship pedigree, and given the team’s success with him in the crease, head coach André Tourigny’s choice was easy.

Related: James Boyd’s Patience has the 67’s Almost Ready to Compete Again

Game 2 was tied after Allan McShane scored early in the third, but the 67’s had another textbook period. Four more goals from Marco Rossi, Hoelscher, Chmelevski, and Maksimovich gave Ottawa their tenth playoff win in a row to lead the Eastern Conference Final two games to none.

Ottawa beat the brakes off of the Generals in Game 3 despite a 35-save performance from Kyle Keyser. Oshawa simply couldn’t handle the 67’s and entered Game 4 with their backs against the wall, facing a team that had won 11 straight games. Game 4 wouldn’t be easy, but they were up for the test.

Game 4 was another elimination game for the 67’s. Win the game, and they would advance to the OHL Championship round to take on either the Saginaw Spirit or the Guelph Storm. The Generals opened the scoring early in the second period off a goal by Ty Tullio, but then, for the first time in the playoffs, the score sheet was quiet. Chance after chance after chance, Keyser and DiPietro stood tall. Again it seemed Ottawa’s win streak would end, and there would be a Game 5 at TD Place in Ottawa. But, with just over 30 seconds left in the contest, Felhaber stepped into a one-timer that sent the 67’s watch party into a frenzy.

Who other than Felhaber would score the goal to tie the game? As great as the moment was, there was still a job to do. Keyser’s seal had finally been broken, and it took 20 seconds in overtime for Felhaber to score again. The series was over and the 67’s were heading to the OHL Final for the first time since 2005.

Ottawa 67's 2019 Eastern Conference Championship
The Ottawa 67’s defeated the Oshawa Generals 2-1 in overtime to claim the Bobby Orr Trophy as Eastern Conference Champions. (Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.)

This photo will be forever cherished in 67’s history. It is displayed prominently in the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group offices located under the arena. The cowboy had on the right tells a story. The players decided that a cowboy hat would be the theme of their playoff run and every player came to the arena wearing one, even Brian Kilrea wore one. Another tradition is the eye black under their eyes which represented the round they were in.

Round Four Vs. Guelph Storm

Before getting into this series, it’s important to acknowledge how the Storm reached the Final. The roster was bolstered at the trade deadline through a blockbuster deal with the Owen Sound Attack to bring in Nick Suzuki who was recently traded to the Montreal Canadiens in the Max Pacioretty deal. They also were filled to the brim with talent. Dmitri Samorukov, Mackenzie Entwistle, Alexey Toropchenko, Liam Howel, and Isaac Ratcliffe are just some of the names.

While the 67’s were built on speed and talent, the Storm featured size and grit that could wear any team down. After cruising through round one, the Storm fell to a 3-0 series deficit against the London Knights before coming back to win it. In round three, they trailed the Spirit 3-1 and came back after Ivan Prosvetov decided to bat the puck over the glass. While the 67’s social media campaign was #NoQuit, the hashtag could have easily been applied to the Storm.

The 67’s found the back of the net in Game 1 easily and often en route to a 7-2 win. DiPietro stood tall and made 37 saves on 39 shots and the forwards took care of the scoring. With 13 consecutive wins, Ottawa was starting to look unbeatable. They were now expected to represent the OHL at the Memorial Cup in Halifax and some fans bought their tickets early.

Game 2 will forever be considered the turning point of the series. After goals from Toropchenko and Keegan Stevenson and with the Storm leading 2-0, DiPietro was injured. The player who the 67’s believed would put them over the top was down on the ice about to be replaced by Andree.

Cedrick Andree Ottawa 67's
Cedrick Andree of the Ottawa 67’s (Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

Andree stepped into the crease in Game 2 and stole the show. He stopped all but one of the 27 shots he faced and allowed the 67’s to make their comeback. Ottawa scored four straight goals and held on to win 4-3. Losing DiPietro was devastating, however. Andree was good, especially in the 2018-19 season, but he was also inexperienced and was in his first season as a starting goalie in the OHL. Despite that, the 67’s led the series by two games heading to Guelph for Game 3.

I wouldn’t blame you if you stopped reading here.

The third game of the series can only be described by Guelph’s domination. They nearly doubled Ottawa’s shots and won the game 7-2. It wasn’t close. Game 4 started much the same way. The Storm led 4-1 midway through the second period, but the 67’s wouldn’t go quietly. They pushed the score to 4-3 after a very late goal, but the comeback effort fell short. The series was now tied with a crucial Game 5 back in Ottawa.

With the 67’s now reeling, they entered the third period of Game 5 trailing 4-2. Felhaber scored a goal to bring the game within one, but that was a close as Ottawa made it. Heading back to Guelph down 3-2 in the series, it was do-or-die for the 67’s, but they couldn’t save themselves.

There was a brief moment in Game 6 when the 67’s looked like they might force a deciding seventh game. They led by two goals after the first period, but then, Guelph scored goal after goal. There was no stopping the force of the Storm, especially not without DiPietro. The Storm won the series after being down 2-1 in the series. Four straight losses put a damper on the 67’s 14 straight wins.

Guelph Storm 2019 J. Ross Robertson Cup
Guelph Storm, 2019 OHL Champions (Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

The series was like air in a balloon. It was tightly sealed in the first two games, but DiPietro’s injury was like poking it with a needle and Andree was like covering the hole with tape. He did everything he could to keep the air in the balloon but it was never going to be as solid as before. The Storm also did almost everything right. They deserved the OHL championship.

Memories Forever

A playoff run full of hope, magic, nerves, and heartbreak will forever be part of 67’s history. Reaching these highs was important for the franchise for so many reasons. It is so hard to reach this level of success given the cyclical nature of thes port, and thanks to COVID-19, they didn’t have the chance to make more history in the 2019-20 season.

These memories are also hanging around the arena. There is the Eastern Conference champions photo in the OSEG office, but they have also put a strip of the Xs that were revealed after wins on the wall alongside photos and an explanation of what it means.

There are also the banners that were raised during a celebration of what the team had accomplished before the first home game of the 2019-20 season. Focusing on their accomplishments instead of their defeats is better way to understand the team. They were one of the best teams in franchise history.

This run helped put the 67’s back on the map. It excited the city and brought in new fans. For the first time since moving back to Lansdowne Park, the 67’s sold-out games. The passion and energy were unmatched and it was a run that won’t soon be forgotten.