The Ottawa 67’s season ended Sunday afternoon at the hands of the Mississauga Steelheads in six games. After a spirited series, the Steelheads offensive weapons proved to be too much for the 67’s to handle. In the long-term, the series should prove to be a great learning experience for a young team that has made some moves to position themselves for future success.
What proved to be the Achilles heel for the 67’s was the inability to win on home ice. Three out of the four losses came at TD Place, meanwhile the 67’s two wins of the series came on the road at the Hershey Centre. This was a trend that carried over from the regular season where the team had a 13-20-1 record on home ice and 13-14-6 record on the road.
On home ice during the playoffs the 67’s allowed a combined 13 goals against in three games and only scored six, far from ideal. Meanwhile, on the road the 67’s were better, allowing only nine goals against and scoring 11. Head coach and general manager Jeff Brown said improving his team’s home record is important:
“My first year here I think we had as good of a record at home as anybody, for whatever reason the last couple years haven’t been great at home. It’s something we need to address going forward.” Brown said after his team was eliminated from the post-season on Sunday.
One of the factors that lead to an exit in round one was the 67’s inability to contain some top-end Steelheads talent. At TD Place, top New Jersey Devils prospect Michael McLeod was dominant and had four goals and four assists in three games. In Game 6, McLeod was involved in all the Steelheads offense with five points. His brother Ryan, a top prospect in the 2018 NHL Draft, had five points on the road, with four of those points coming in the final game of the series. 2017 NHL Draft prospect and 67’s defencemen Noel Hoefenmayer talked at the end of the series about trying to defend the Steelheads top six forwards.
Mike McLeod, Ryan McLeod and Spencer Watson take over the 2nd period combining for 10 points as the Trout lead the 67's 4-0 after 40.
— Kenneth Walls (@LongBallsWalls) April 2, 2017
“They are all great players, all their top-six are really good and they are all threats, it wasn’t easy.” Hoefenmayer said.
Goaltending: Leo Lazarev Steals Game Five
With their backs up against the wall, the 67’s received stellar goaltending from their starting netminder, Leo Lazarev in Game 5 of the series. Lazarev had a 51-save performance to force Game 6 back home at TD Place. Fellow teammate, Hoefenmayer praised his team’s superb goaltending in that game:
“He was definitely our best player by far. I have never seen a performance like that in a playoff game, he was amazing and everyone knew that’s why we pushed to Game 6.” Hoefenmayer told the media after the 67’s bowed out of the playoffs on Sunday.
HIGHLIGHTS ⬇ pic.twitter.com/mR9jnAhVIj
— Ottawa 67's (@Ottawa67sHockey) April 1, 2017
Brown, a former NHL player himself echoed Hoefenmayer’s praise for Lazarev as he was forced to watch from the press box while serving a two-game suspension:
“It was as good of a performance as I have ever seen in my life; it wasn’t just that it was 60 shots it was 30 unbelievable shots and I couldn’t believe it watching in the press box. He’s a competitor, a great goalie, if he was six-foot-two he would probably be in the show right now.” Brown told the media.
Despite bowing out in the first round of the playoffs for a third consecutive year, the future looks bright for the 67’s. On the back end the team iced three rookies this season in Peter Stratis, Carter Robinson and Kevin Bahl, all drafted in the top 31 of the 2016 OHL Priority Selection. With a full season now under their belts, it can be expected that they will improve in their second OHL season and Brown spoke about this after the 67’s season ended on Sunday:
“We knew it was going to be a challenge when we took all those young guys at the beginning of the year but it was an incredible experience. The experience will only help them long-term.” Brown told the media.
— Ottawa 67's (@Ottawa67sHockey) March 29, 2017
Going forward, the 67’s have a great player on the back-end in Hoefenmayer. With now two seasons under his belt, Hoefenmayer had a breakout season offensively in 2016-17 with 40 points in 62 regular season games and was over a point per game pace in the playoffs with seven points in six games. Heading into the 2017 NHL Draft, he is rising on many scouts lists for not only his offensive capabilities but his defensive play as well. In his latest draft rankings, TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button has him ranked 52 among all eligible players. Brown noted he likes what he sees from the North York, Ontario native:
“It was a statement playoff for him, I am proud of him. He’s been a good player for us all year and he certainly chipped in offensively.” Brown told the media after Game 4 of the series last week.
— RTV Ottawa Sports (@RTVOttawaSports) February 23, 2017
With increased experience on the back-end, there is no doubt that the 67’s will be able to take the next step as a franchise and advance past round one of the playoffs in the not too distant future. At the end of season press conference, Brown noted that he can see his team be an elite team in the Eastern Conference next season:
“There is no reason why we cannot compete for the conference next year, that’s our goal and that’s been our goal all along.” Brown said.
There is plenty of reason to be optimistic if you are a 67’s fan with the team getting older and the development of young top-end prospects.