The Ottawa 67’s hit an eight-day Christmas break without a regulation win in their last nine outings, but for a rebuilding squad, there’s reason to believe 2014 will treat them a lot better than 2013.
Despite a stretch that’s seem them struggle and play some of their most inconsistent hockey of the year, Ottawa is one point out of a playoff spot with two games in hand on Niagara.
“For my money, we've been in lots of games,” said Chris Byrne. “We've pushed some really good teams. But we have to be better to win games. I think that that's the main thing going into the second half.”
Gaining experience in the rebuild is what the bench boss is banking on as he aims to pull the team back into the top eight.
“There's no more 'rookies' anymore, there's no more 'first-year' guys, everybody's played half a season. For us to climb up the standings and hold onto a playoff spot, we've got to find ways to win.”
As was the case last year, Ottawa isn’t in a playoff spot at the break, but the outlook is a lot more positive than it was 12 months ago.
Once Ottawa can roll two goalies, they could be better off.
After dropping Jacob Blair and acquiring Connor Hughes from London, Philippe Trudeau continued to pile up the starts, but with Hughes getting better acquainted at practice, he could get a start against last-place Belleville on the 28th.
“He's getting used to the speed of the OHL game,” added Byrne. “Every practice he's been better. We expect him to practice a bit more before he plays, but he's adjusting well.”
If anyone can handle playing 20 games in a row, it’s going to be a 20-year old overager, but it certainly doesn’t help to only have one goalie playing.
One thing is for sure, Trudeau doesn’t mind playing countless games and facing a ridiculous amount of shots, that could bode well if Ottawa makes any attempt to pull off a playoff upset.
New year, new stomping grounds
Speaking of the 2014 OHL playoffs, rumours have been floating around the Nation’s Capital that the 67’s are attempting to get the Civic Center prepared for the playoffs.
This is, of course, pending on a number of variables, the most important one being Ottawa making the playoffs.
If spring doesn’t bring the 67’s back to Bank Street, fall will.
But if the Barberpoles return to the post season for the 19th time in 20 years, a return home would be a help for scheduling – which has been an issue for the 67’s playoff-bound squads in the past – and could be an interesting marketing tool to pack large crowds in for playoff hockey.
The trade block isn’t as full as it was a year ago, nor does it have the same big names, but the 67’s could still be in a petty-selling mode.
John Urbanic is doing everything he can to get ice time, including a fight-of-the-year candidate with Matt McCartney in the first period of a shootout win over Peterborough.
But the 18-year old isn’t moving from the fourth line. Occasionally Taylor Fielding takes a fourth line shift to help push Urbanic up, but Sam Studnicka has a tight hold on the position of checking line right winger.
The Barberpoles aren’t going to trade Studnicka, who they brought in specifically to play against other team’s top lines.
It’s possible Fielding goes, he can play two positions and is a hard-nosed veteran of the OHL, but his trade value isn’t exactly through the roof.
Ryan Van Stralen has to gain consideration as a trade chip in his overage year.
Not only is he scoring at such a pace that he’s already one goal away from matching his career high on the year, his goals are timely.
Averaging nearly a point per game, Van Stralen would be perfect on the third line for a contending team.
Another player surpassing career totals is Brett Gustavsen, who again, would be a great third-line addition to a contender.
Gustavsen was only in a third line role in 2012 when he scored a series-deciding goal in a game seven overtime vs. Barrie. If contending teams are looking for a cheap-to-add asset that can be clutch, Gustavsen could probably be on the move.
To start the calendar year in 2013, freshly removed from a number of big trades, an already struggling Ottawa team looked lost almost every single night.
There will be nights in 2014 where the team gets blown out, it’s inevitable with such a young defence and no elite netminder.
However, the playoffs are within their grasp.
Maybe their rebuild doesn’t compare to that of, say, Kingston, but they were in the exact same boat at this time last year.