If it weren’t obvious beforehand, the record speaks for itself now.
The Ottawa 67’s (10-14-3) can only beat bad teams.
With the season’s halfway mark around the corner, Ottawa holds an 8-3-1 record against fellow teams that are bottom-five in their respective conferences.
The latest loss to a top-ranked squad is reason for optimism, however. In the midst of their northern road swing, the 67’s picked up a valuable point against the West Division-leading Soo Greyhounds.
The strong efforts against good teams is certainly there, but the ability to close out those games still isn’t there.
However, the ability to steal points from contenders has the 67’s in a much better position than last year.
Match their current record 2-11-2 record against top teams to last season’s, where they went 5-27-2 against squads in the top half of the standings.
While 67’s fans discuss whether or not Chris Byrne is the coach and general manager of the future, their rebuild could be in much worse hands.
Ottawa will not be a major player in the OHL’s busy trade market this deadline, but one has to wonder if John Urbanic or Jacob Blair are in the team’s future plans.
Blair has only appeared in five of Ottawa’s last 26 games, in a season where an 18-year old should be taking control over the crease for a rebuilding team.
It’s not to suggest that Blair is on the trade block per se, but there’s a very good chance Byrne looks to add two more goaltenders before next September. Whether or not the search for future goaltending starts now is yet to be seen.
The 67’s do have two such possible players in their system, but neither is expected to ever step on the ice for the team.
Daniel Mannella originally made the team as a third-stringer, but left on his own to pursue NCAA aspirations.
Similarly, highly-touted Ben Blacker is committed to Western Michigan University.
Should the Barberpoles guarantee him a certain number of starts to Blacker, they may be able to pry him away.
The import draft can’t save Ottawa’s goaltending situation now, it’s very possible they’ll have to do so via the trade route.
As for Urbanic, he’s making the most of his fourth-line shifts, but Taylor Fielding and Sam Studnicka are playing the majority of the defensive shifts where Urbanic would ideally be.
It wasn’t until late in Ottawa’s 4-3 loss to Sudbury that Urbanic notched his first goal of the season.
New “top” line
While a new makeshift line of Ryan Van Stralen, Travis Konecny and Joseph Blandisi is likely considered Ottawa’s first line, a second line of Brett Gustavsen, Brendan Bell and Dante Salituro is one that’s creating most of the team’s chances.
During their school day game, Salituro set up Bell twice to help Bell record his first career hattrick.
“We came out flying,” said Bell after the game that saw his line’s breakout. “We got a few goals, and we just kept playing our game the whole time right until the buzzer. We like getting pucks down low and getting our cycle game going.”
Byrne mirrored the confidence in his new line, saying “that line has clicked and played well.”
To go along with the line adjustments, a new top pairing has emerged on the blueline with Alex Lintuniemi and Nevin Guy, who struggled mightily to start the season.
“We’re always looking for combinations that work and they’ve worked hard for us,” Byrne said about his new top two defenders.
Lintuniemi and Guy played as a pairing during training camp.
Guy had a breakout game against Belleville, putting up a goal and four assists.
The 67’s still hold the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference, but with two games in hand on seventh-place Peterborough and Niagara and Belleville going into sell mode, it appears as though that playoff spot is safe moving future.