Ottawa 67’s a work in progress

September 15, 2016

A general consensus among varying factions connected to the Ontario Hockey League suggests that the Mississauga Steelheads will be the team to beat in the Eastern Conference this season.

But thanks to the good work in progress of third year coach-general manager Jeff Brown and director of player personnel Pat Higgins, the Ottawa 67’s loom as a contender of promise in the 10-member Eastern market.

A nice mix of experience and youth, the 67’s seem poised to climb the Eastern block ladder in 2016-2017 after making a return to the OHL playoff scene in each of Brown’s first two seasons in Ottawa. Prior to the arrival of Brown, Ottawa had missed the playoffs in both 2012-2013 and 2013-2014.

While the 67’s lost in the first round of the playoffs in 2014-2015 and 2015-2016, they had winning records under Brown in both seasons with 38 and 36 victories, respectively.

And 2016-2017 could well be the season that the 67’s take another leap forward under Brown, who prior to taking the job in Ottawa, won two championships in a three-year span with teams in both the high-level North American Hockey League and the tier 1 United States Hockey League.

To be sure, Brown knows how to build a winning program and in Ottawa, he has the added luxury of having the aforementioned Higgins as his trusted player personnel sidekick.

Looking at what Ottawa has, returning forwards Sasha Chmelevski, Travis Barron and Austen Keating have elite OHL potential and while the 67’s have an established goalie in Leo Lazarev, the blueline in front of the Russian twine tender is definitely on the young side.

Chmelevski, who was a first-round draft pick of the Sarnia Sting in 2015 before being dealt to Ottawa as the centre-piece in the trade for star winger Travis Konecny, has recovered from an injury that limited him to five games with the 67’s after the deal. Overall, Chmelevski netted 8 goals, 11 assists, 19 points in 34 games as an OHL rookie before sparking the United States to a silver medal at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament over the summer.

“He’s going to be our best player if he isn’t already,” Coach Brown told hockey writer Josh Sweetland. “He’s got a tremendous hockey brain, great vision and he’s a really good player that makes guys around him better.”

Meanwhile, Russian winger Artur Tyanulin returns to Ottawa following a 20-goal season in 2015-2016 while other up-front regulars will include overagers Trent Mallette and Patrick White and homegrown veteran Ben Fanjoy, formerly of the Kanata Lasers of the Central Canada Hockey League.

As previously noted, the 67’s are young on the blueline but they do feature overager Jacob Middleton, who figures to log some of the most minutes in the entire OHL this season.

“He’s everything for us,” Brown said of the big defender. “He’s our captain, he sees ice in all situations, he’s a 30-minute-a-night guy. He’s probably our most important player as far as how much success we’re going to have as a team.”

67’s blueline youngsters include 2016 draft picks Peter Stratis, Carter Robertson and Kevin Bahl, who will join Middleton and holdover sophomores Noel Hoefenmayer and Hudson Wilson in front of Lazarev.

A pint-pized puck-stopper, Lazarev has a reputation for stealing games on his own.

“Leo is a big-time competitor,” said Brown. “He’s won us games by himself and we’ll be counting on him to do that a few times this season. It’s his crease now and it’s his year to run with it.”

With that envious mix of young and old talent, patience will nonetheless be preached by the 50-year old Brown, who as a player starred in the OHL with the Sudbury Wolves before going on to skate in more than 800 National Hockey League games while scoring more than 170 goals as a standout, puck-handling defenseman.

“We’ve got a young blueline and it’s tough for 16 and 17-year-olds to compete against the size and speed of forwards in our league on a nightly basis,” Brown said evenly. “Development takes time and we’re going to give these guys every opportunity to learn and grow.

“We may take our lumps along the way but we’re excited to see what guys can do given a bigger opportunity. We’re committed to building a winner here in Ottawa,” Brown added.

To be sure, there are those within the OHL who feel as though going deeper into the playoffs will come sooner than later in the nation’s capital.

PHOTO: Ottawa 67’s coach-general manager Jeff Brown. (Photo by Postmedia.)

What you think about “Ottawa 67’s a work in progress”

  1. Mississauga Steelheads? I don’t think they will be the team to beat in the EC. You got the Niagara Ice Dogs, North Bay Battalion, and the Barrie Colts who are the strongest.

  2. Can’t agree that NB will be among the strongest this season. Their star power has moved on and it will take all of Stan’s bag of tricks to keep them competitive. Season one in the Bay was their best season and its been slipping a little each year since. Butler’s teams always seem to manage to make the playoffs but as a 4-time STH, I’m lowering my expectations for the coming campaign.

  3. Hey again, Armand5,
    We’re inclined to agree with you that the Battalion may not pick up where they left off in their success rate. On the other hand, Stan Butler’s reputation speaks volumes for his years of success, in good times and in bad. I’ll wager they’ll easily make the playoffs, and who knows how far they can go from there?
    We’ll stay positive and look forward to winning ways.
    And, speaking of season tickets (insert a few tears here), we have finally been forced, due solely to health reasons, to give up the season tickets our family has held for 44 years. Ranging from 3 to 5 of the same seats (depending on how many of our kids were still in town), we have enjoyed the exploits of the POHA Trappers, OHL Centennials, NOJHL Skyhawks and Trappers, and now the Battalion. Fortunately, we can now watch the games on Cogeco’s local TV broadcasts, which, I might add, are very professionally done by Ranjan Rupal and Greg Theberge.
    Oh well, as we like to say, ‘we had a good run’, and all good things must come to an end. We’ll never lose our interest in Junior hockey.
    Cheers all!

  4. Hi there LeJib – I can easily relate to your health issues. I was also undecided about a season ticket this year as the old knees and back were squawking and the seats at the Gardens are only comfortable if you’re a skinny nine-year old. On a cold, snowy day in January, watching from home seems appealing (although its pretty hard to win the 50/50 from there). I also think the Battalion marketing department is quite stingy for STHs compared to what other O clubs offer. To me, the smaller the market, the greater the need for marketing. Home games in a smaller centre have to be popular events to draw larger crowds. I guess marketing in Brampton was so useless that they just gave up trying.

  5. Hey again Armand5,
    I think I have the pleasure of chatting with a very perceptive and fair-minded hockey fan, (not to mention well-read and well-spoken). I agree with you as far as the marketing issue goes; and we also find the new seats to be less comfortable than the old wooden ones, although there are the same number in every row. The publicized rationale was that the old lead-based enamel was too toxic to continue in use. Just one more example of contemporary paranoia run amuck. We 5 in my family, along with countless friends and other fans, parked our butts in those seats for 41 years, and didn’t suffer a single affliction. Of course, I don’t recall anyone trying to eat the paint. Oh well, who are we to judge, eh?
    Keep up your insightful and humorous interjections. We can look forward to another season of great OHL hockey.

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