Ottawa 67’s fans were surprised last night watching their team warm-up for their tilt against the Peterborough Petes (6-3 win for the Barber Poles) by Adam Varga, Jack Beck and Jack Matier sporting the letter A on their sweaters. The three will skate as alternate captains during all home games. Not only that, but the club announced Cameron Tolnai, Teddy Sawyer and Dylan Robinson will wear the A in all games played on the road.
Dave Cameron Explains Ottawa 67’s 6 Assistant Captains
Asked about the move in a post-game presser, head coach Dave Cameron said the six were chosen because “they are the guys you expect to do things the right way. The first thing you do when you select them is ask whether they want the responsibility that goes with it. I made it quite clear to them that they’re the ones I’m going to single out; they’re the ones I’m going to be hardest on because they are an extension of us as coaches.”
Cameron seems to understand the limitations of coaching, saying that, “the message and pressure coming from peers is way more valuable than the coach coming in all the time. Our big challenge in this business is the length of the season, so the more voices you have repeating the same message, it simplifies it a lot. When they (the players) do it, they own it, and it becomes way more valuable to them as opposed to someone just telling them.”
Asked about whether a captain would be appointed this season, Cameron said, “That’s a good question. Right now, we’ll say no, but as it evolves here, if we think somebody steps up, there may be a captain.” Even so, the Ottawa bench boss will be careful and deliberate in his choice, explaining, “I’m a 10-game guy. I want to see a player for 10 games before I can get what I feel is an accurate reading. But with COVID-19 (and the resulting) 18 months without playing, that 10 games is probably going to stretch.”
Here’s a look at the six alternate captains appointed last night.
The 18-year-old defenceman was taken in the fourth round (124th overall) in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft by the Nashville Predators. Now in his first full season with the Barber Poles (his first two were cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic), the Sault St. Marie native has put up nine points in 11 games, including three goals, two of which were on the power play.
The choice of Matier was predictable. When the young blueliner signed an entry-level contract with the Predators last month, Cameron said at a press conference then that, “I look to NHL drafted players like Matier to be difference makers and multipliers and make people better. That’s exactly what he is, and he’s a great teammate on top of that too. He’s a big part of this team today and will be moving forward.”
Echoing his view that a team’s leadership on the ice is an extension of the coaching staff, Cameron went on to expand on the young star’s presence in the dressing room, saying that, “what’s really nice about it from a coaching point of view is that he does things the right way so you can point to him and tell younger players that if they want to be a pro then follow him.”
The 20-year-old right winger now in his fifth year in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) earns high praise from Cameron, who has singled him out as a leader, saying after a mid-October win over the Sudbury Wolves that he was “one of the guys that set the tone for us. The first goal (in that game) was a prime example. We threw the puck at the Sudbury net, and Brady Stonehouse was there, and Varga came down on it and took some whacks at it to get it in.”
Varga has put up six points in 11 games so far this season. He impressed Cameron playing on a line with rookies Stonehouse and Vsevolod Gaidamak. Not only has he supported the two new arrivals, but Cameron says, “I like that line. I think it has a little bit of everything on it. Gaidamak is a playmaker who sees the ice really well. [Stonehouse] is an energy and physical guy, and Varga has lots of speed. I think it’s a real good mix on that line.”
While his play on the ice no doubt figured in his appointment as an alternate captain, what he does off the ice probably counted just as much. In June this year, the OHL gave the Bel Air, Maryland native the Roger Neilson Memorial Award presented annually to the league’s top academic post-secondary student. Varga achieved an impressive 94 percent average over seven courses at the University of Maryland.
Taken in the sixth round, 168th overall in this year’s NHL Entry Draft by the Calgary Flames, Beck has notched an impressive 17 points in 11 games to lead the Barber Poles as their top points-getter. Not only that, but he sits just one goal behind the Soo Greyhounds’ Tye Kartye for the top spot in the OHL for goals scored.
The 18-year-old Richmond Hill, Ontario native has Cameron’s confidence as a leader, with the former Ottawa Senators bench boss saying, “What happens in junior a lot of times is their skill-set is such that they can get by maybe not necessarily playing the right way, because they may be up against weaker teams or up against weaker players. So that’s the big thing in front of Jack now, as it is with all skilled guys after they get drafted. But I don’t see it being an issue because of his attitude.” (from, “A hockey legend told him to shoot; Flames’ prospect Jack Beck is listening”, Calgary Sun, 26/10/2021)
Tracking better than a point-per-game so far this season, the 19-year-old centreman has notched 13 points in 11 games. Yet another scholar on the 67’s roster, Tolnai earned recognition as one of the OHL’s Academic Players of the Month in 2020, maintaining an average of 92 percent in his grade 12 university-level courses.
Eileen Duffin, the 67’s Academic Advisor, said at the time that “Cam epitomizes a student-athlete. He is an extremely motivated student, committed to only turning in top-notch work while balancing the demands of the hockey schedule. Cam’s work ethic has earned the respect of his teachers at Blyth, his teammates and fellow students.”
The 17-year-old Columbus, Ohio native is a stalwart on the 67’s blue line. When the NHL’s Central Scouting List was released last month, Sawyer’s name was among the 143 Canadian Hockey League players on the register for the 2022 draft. Sawyer earned a C rating, meaning he should be a fourth- to sixth-round selection at the NHL Entry Draft next summer. (from, “67’s guitar playing Sawyer set for bigger stage”, Ottawa Sun, 21/10/2021)
If hockey doesn’t pan out for him, a career as a rock n’ roller might. He is fond of laying down licks on his Telecaster guitar from songs by Eric Clapton, Jimmy Hendrix and Eric Johnson. Apparently he is very good.
The 19-year-old Pickering native is another point-per-game player. Originally drafted by the Oshawa Generals, the 6-foot-2, 170-pound left winger is really starting to make an impact in his second full season with the Barber Poles and his third in the OHL.
In big wins last month against the Generals and the Kingston Frontenacs, Robinson notched important points at several pivotal points in both games. Watch for him to become a key player in the Barber Poles’ lineup as the season wears on.
The Ottawa 67’s Next Captain
The Barber Poles have been without a captain for a long-time. Yet that doesn’t mean the team lacks leadership on the ice. They have plenty of it in the six players named alternate captains on Friday night.
Whether a captain emerges sometime this season, only Cameron and his coaching staff really know. Still, if it’s this year that 67’s fans see a player wearing a C on his sweater, it is most likely to be one of the six now wearing the A.
Paul covers the Calgary Flames, the Ottawa Senators and the OHL’s Ottawa 67s for The Hockey Writers (THW). He also hosts the Flames Faceoff show for THW’s Podcast Network.
Paul has been sought for media interviews for the thoughtful pieces he has written on hockey’s response to the major social and political issues of the day including the place of gay players in the game. Paul is also known for his interesting perspectives on the key issues and challenges facing the teams he follows.
Of his work with THW, Paul says, “I love to tell stories about the game of hockey and the personalities – both past and present, who have made it the greatest game on the planet!”
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