The Ottawa 67’s finished their Ontario Hockey League-leading 31st game before the Christmas break on Saturday afternoon with a loss against the Barrie Colts, leaving them with no points in three games over the weekend. To say that it has been a grind would be an understatement. Having already played 31 games since October 8th has left the 67’s with plenty of three-in-three weekends and lots of travel. It’s even worse when you consider that some teams around the league have only played 24 or 25 games.
It was once again another good effort by a still significantly short-handed 67’s squad against a team that is expected to become a top contender in the Eastern Conference in the second half of the season. Ultimately, the Colts were the better team on the afternoon and took two points for the long (and very snowy) bus ride back to Barrie.
Another Good Effort Falls Short
For the second time in as many days, the 67’s put together an effort that they can be proud of. The coaches and players have been talking about playing the best game they can and the results following, but recently, the results haven’t followed. That’s due to a combination of things, mainly the youth of the roster and the missing components that will hopefully be back after Christmas, but one aspect of that ideology has been right recently. The effort has been good.
“The big picture I thought it was a hockey game,” said acting head coach Norm Milley. “I remember playing junior in the last game before going home before Christmas break, it’s tough to stay mentally focused. As a young teenager, you’re looking forward to getting home and there’s not much that anyone can say or do to take your mind away from that.”
“At the end of the day, it was a good hockey game. There were ups and there were downs and there were moments where we had control and there were moments where we didn’t. We gave them a lot of offensive zone time, but we kept them to the outside. Overall, it was a game that could have gone either way.”
With all of the losing, stress around COVID outbreaks, and Christmas around the corner, the making was there for a young team to come out and play a sleepy hockey game. That wasn’t the case for them, however. They came out, put forth a good effort and kept the game close. They should be happy with the way they played, and now, it’s just about finding a way to put the puck in the net in the second half of the season.
Young Players Starting to Click
Some of those goals they are searching for could come courtesy of some of their youth. Time and time again, the young players including Luca Pinelli, Brady Stonehouse, Chris Barlas, Brad Gardiner, and Will Gerrior have had chances to score, but they haven’t been able to find a way to capitalize. That’s typical of young players, but over the three months of OHL action, they have taken large steps forward.
“I think [Stonehouse and Pinelli] are kinda coming out of their shells a little bit,” said Milley. “They are playing with more confidence. Stonehouse is a guy who sticks to his game and gets the pucks deep and used his speed wide. He’s a very effective player for us and I think he’s realized that. I think he’s realized that when he uses his tools, he gets in the games more, he plays more, and he can be trusted more.”
“With Pinelli, I think it was just a matter of time for him to gain his confidence with the puck,” he continued. “We had some good conversations with him about not cheating on the offensive side of the ice, and by him staying more reliable defensively, we can put him out there in more situations where he has the puck more and he can create more plays and have the puck on his stick more.”
“I also think that [Brad] Gardiner is playing well. He’s coming along and his game has improved a lot. He’s also a guy that we can trust out there and he’s gaining our trust more and more. Again, our young guys have taken steps. We’re really proud of the way our young guys are developing and were really proud of the way our older guys are helping keep things steady.”
Many times, young players go home for Christmas and have time to get away from the game for a little while. Perhaps their friends remind them of how good they can actually be, or they get a short break from the homesickness they have possibly developed in the months away, but players tend to come back to their team with a little more confidence. All of these players have been playing really well, but when they come back, the goals could start happening. Once they get their firsts, things could get rolling, too.
Emotions Boil Over
It was only the second time that the 67’s and Colts met this season, but by the way things boiled over, you would think it was more like their fifth or sixth time this season. Things got heated, particularly in the third period and things culminated into a couple of fights in the late stages of the final frame.
“It was an emotional finish for sure,” Milley recalled. “I think frustrations were setting in a little bit. We had a good talk before the game started about finishing up the right way and taking some strides in the right direction and I know the guys were excited to get going.”
“It’s something that we definitely have to address,” he said. “We have to learn to control our emotions and we can’t be selfish. The Ottawa 67’s organization and team, one of our mottos is we are unselfish. Some of those penalties put us behind and it was a bit of a selfish moment at the time. We have to learn how to control our emotions better at those moments.”
“Again, it’s something we have to learn from and we have to be better at it.”
Spending less time in the penalty box would be a massive win for the 67’s. With the special teams struggling at the moment, goals have been tough to come by and giving away freebies on the penalty kill is a recipe for disaster. Maybe it comes with the frustration of losing, but either way, Milley is right to suggest that it’s something that needs to be rectified.
The Right Time For Christmas
Everyone on the team seems ready for some time away. They have played a lot of hockey in a short space of time and getting away and refocusing could be just what the doctor ordered when it comes to ending the constant barrage of losses. It’s important to get away from the game and relax for a few weeks.
“It’s a good break for everyone,” said Milley. “The guys have played a lot of hockey, especially coming back from COVID where they hadn’t played much. As much as you practice and you train, the games are different. It’s a great time for everyone to get a break, I think we need it, I think us coaches need it as well. Go back and get some family time, relax and recharge the brain. I’m looking forward to the break, I can tell you that much.”
“We talked after the game and I told [the players] to go home and not talk hockey to anybody. Their parents are probably going to want to talk hockey, their friends are probably going to want to talk hockey, but I said no, don’t talk hockey. Talk anything but hockey. Get away from the game so when you come back, you are ready to go, you’re ready to be around, and you’re ready to talk hockey.”
“They have talked enough hockey with us coaches over the last little while and they need to just get away from the game,” said Milley, likely hoping people would stop asking him questions so he could get on with his Christmas break. “I think if they go relax and not abuse their body of course because when you come back and are a step behind, it’s going to take you longer to get back, but go home, get some sleep, get some rest, enjoy the time with family, and enjoy mom’s food, you’ll come back recharged and ready to go.”