It’s tough to have sustained success in the Ontario Hockey League, due to the nature of competition, and a large variety of external reasons which will be discussed here. For the Ottawa 67’s, they have been a victim of circumstance during their prime championship window and have had championship glory removed from their grasp two seasons in a row.
This article will discuss where it all went wrong for the 67’s in the last two seasons. In hockey, ‘what-ifs’ are not worth championships, but they certainly make interesting discussion points.
The 2018-19 season for the 67’s was one of so much promise – they were a strong team from the outset, and a few midseason trades made them into a superteam. With additions of Michael DiPietro, Kyle Maksimovich, and Lucas Chiodo, the 67’s were all-in on the season’s playoffs as they were favourites to reach the Memorial Cup.
These additions, combined with the strong players they already had like rookie Marco Rossi along with veterans Sasha Chmelevski and Tye Felhaber, gave the 67’s a remarkably deep team for the Major Junior level.
With a league-leading 50 wins and 106 points from 68 games, the 67’s were rolling as they went into the playoffs. With six point-a-game point scorers and the best goaltender in the league in DiPietro, they were ready to face whatever may come at them.
The 2019 Playoffs
With three relatively straightforward sweeps in the first rounds of the playoffs, the 67’s were looking to replicate their past form in the OHL Finals.
In the Finals, they came up against an over-performing Guelph Storm and won the first game convincingly. In the second game, DiPietro fell awkwardly and was in significant pain as he had to leave the ice. (from ‘Andree a giant for 67’s as DiPietro leaves injured,’ Ottawa Sun, 05/04/2019) Steady backup Cedrick Andree came into the net and saw the comeback be achieved as his team battled back and went into Game 3 up 2-0 in the series.
Nonetheless, after the injury to the best goaltender in the OHL, the 67’s were never the same team and struggled throughout the rest of the series. Guelph scored seven goals in Game 3 in a 7-2 rout of the 67’s as they had no answers to the rolling Storm. In Game 4, the 67’s almost bounced back but failed to win it, falling 5-4 at the death, tying up the series at 2-2.
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It was another one-goal affair that fell the way of the Guelph Storm in Game 5, but by Game 6, the 67’s looked beat down and defeated. They fought valiantly but weren’t able to push back the charging Storm as they fell 8-3, putting an end to their playoff hopes and dreams.
It is difficult to say that one injury derailed an entire season, but when a player is as important as DiPietro is lost, the argument most certainly can be made. The 67’s, after this season, lost several vital names, including DiPietro, and it was going to be an uphill battle if they looked to make a redemption route in the ensuing season.
Austen Keating, one of the core players of the 2019 playoff run, made it clear early on that he was returning for his over-age season with one thing on his mind – redemption. Even as many of the core players, including four of the top five leading scorers, wouldn’t be returning, the 67’s organization believed they could make another push at the playoffs.
All eyes were on Keating, recently drafted Graeme Clarke, and sophomore Marco Rossi, who managed 65 points in 53 games during his rookie season, playing in a depth role. The 67’s started the season strong but with injuries early to star players Graeme Clarke and Russian defenceman Nikita Okhutyuk, they were going to be greatly tested if they wanted to make another run deep into the playoffs.
Enter Jack Quinn and the briefly aforementioned Rossi. Both became dominant players in leading roles and led what was to be another elite team before they were even drafted into the NHL. Quinn, in particular, shined, as his projections in the NHL Draft transitioned from a mid-second-round prospect to be a mid-first round pick, projected to go 19th overall by The Hockey Writers own, Joshua Bell, and creeping into the top-10 in some pundit’s projections.
These two, accompanied by veteran Keating and a whole host of other stars had just as dominant of a regular season as the year before, leading the league before the coronavirus caused cancellation of the season.
Even their goaltending looked to be promising after the departure of DiPietro as Andree transitioned well into the starting role, putting up great stats – he was near the top of the league in almost every major goaltending category.
The 67’s even made more midseason acquisitions, acquiring Adam Varga, Joseph Garreffa, and Daylon Groulx to shore up what was surely another team who were favourites to win the championship and qualify for the Memorial Cup.
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Unfortunately for the 67’s, they were not even given the opportunity to try for the Memorial Cup or even the OHL playoffs as a global pandemic brought the world to a standstill. In order to protect the safety of everyone involved in hockey and beyond, the 2019-20 OHL season and playoffs were cancelled and life moved on without hockey for a while.
The 67’s remarkable season was not for a loss however as Keating and many other 67’s were recognized for their success. Marco Rossi was voted MVP of the entire league and made the OHL first-team along with teammate Noel Hoefenmayer and coach Andre Tourigny. (from ‘MOVING ON UP: 67’s Rossi ready for next step after winning Tilson trophy as OHL MVP,’ Chronicle Herald, 05/21/2020) The second team featured another couple of 67’s with Joseph Garreffa and Team Canada defenceman Kevin Bahl making the grade.
67’s Were Still Dominant
Even when ‘what-ifs’ are unable to change the past or even current events, it still gives recognition to what were two dominant Major Junior teams. Would the Ottawa 67’s have made the Memorial Cup, and could they even have become champions? Feel free to discuss in the comments below, or just put in your favourite memory of the OHL shortened season.