In rare Wednesday night action from the Arena at TD Place in Ottawa, the 67’s looked to snap their four-game losing streak by beating a rejuvenated Peterborough Petes team that was still riding the high of getting Mason McTavish back into their lineup. For the Petes, this was likely the last time they would see McTavish in the maroon and white as it’s expected he will be traded before he gets back from the World Juniors, so they would want to send him out on a high.
The 67’s wouldn’t allow such a send-off, however. They turned in one of their best efforts in a long time and played an inspired game to win 4-3. The losing streak is over, and at least for the time being, they can feel great about their play.
Alex Johnston Debuts For 67’s
On Wednesday morning, the 67’s announced that they had received commitment from Alex Johnston, an overage forward who has previous OHL experience with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. This season, Alex Johnston has played two games in the British Columbia Hockey League with the Nanaimo Clippers, scoring two points in two games.
“Alex is a hard-working and competitive player, with experience in the Ontario Hockey League,” said general manager James Boyd. “His addition will provide stability, and maturity to our lineup.”
With all of the injuries that the 67’s have suffered in the past handful of weeks, they were in need of a veteran presence. They are already one of the youngest teams in the league, and without players like Adam Varga, Jack Beck, and Dylan Robinson, the young players were being asked to do a lot. That has been able to change slightly with the addition of Alex Johnston.
“It was really big for us,” said Norm Milley who is serving as the head coach while Dave Cameron is away at the World Juniors. “We’ve been talking about it for a long time to insulate the young guys. They were playing a lot and sometimes when you overplay them, you can hurt their development. By getting Alex [Johnston] it gives us the ability to not only add depth to our team but also gives us support for our younger guys and helps them develop as well.”
“He’s a good player,” continued Milley. “We talked about him a lot when he was in Sault Ste. Marie, so we’re happy to get him.”
While playing with the Greyhounds, Alex Johnston played well and was certainly an OHL calibre player. He was the odd man out in a crowded overage spot and was let go in training camp. He waited for his chance to play elsewhere, but that didn’t come for some time. On Wednesday night, he picked up his first point in the barber pole.
“It feels great,” said Johnston. “It’s been all I’ve wanted since I was sent home from the Soo. It was awesome to get back here.”
“It’s really cool,” said the Stittsville native. “You’ve got friends and family in the stands and some of them might not know much about the OHL but they know who the 67’s are. It’s a whole other level playing at home. You just start hearing from people from high school, from elementary school just congratulating you because they know what the 67’s are and they know what that means.”
Thomas Johnston’s Massive Night
Any time someone scores as many goals as Thomas Johnston did on Wednesday night, people take notice. He found the back of the net three times in the 67’s win and was a large reason for why the game went the way it did. Thomas Johnston is a player who struggled mightily to score in his rookie season, but seemingly out of nowhere, he has exploded onto the scene and scored his first-ever hat trick on Wednesday.
“He’s a streaky player,” said Milley. “At the beginning of the year, he came off hot and scored some big goals for us and then he kinda went down a little bit. I think he puts too much pressure on himself to produce goals. With him, it’s just a matter of not focusing on points, it’s focusing on his game. His game is getting pucks in deep, being first on the forecheck, and to see him track tonight, it was unbelievable.”
Thomas Johnston has become known for his gritty play style in his short time with the 67’s. His development curve has been impressive since he was on the ice in 2019-20, and the goals that he has been scoring have been coming off seeing-eye shots, not the lucky bounces you get when you go to the front of the net. He’s becoming a threat for the 67’s offensively, and they are certainly thankful that he is back from whatever injury was bothering him.
Will Cranley’s Bounce Back Night
Will Cranley has been rock solid in the 67’s crease all season long, but he has struggled just a touch in the past week or so. He has transformed himself from the backup goaltender that no one knew what to expect from him from game to game to a legitimate top-five goaltender in the OHL, and on Wednesday night, he got back to playing the way he had all season long.
“I think it’s big for Will [Cranley],” said Milley. “He’s a confident player, he feeds off of that. I’m happy for him because I see the way he practices, I see the amount of pressure he puts on himself, and sometimes maybe it’s too much. He’s focused, so for him to play [well] tonight, reflects on his work ethic and the effort he’s put into it. I’m happy for him to play a solid game tonight and hopefully, we can just keep going with it.”
Cranley turned aside 31 of the 34 Petes’ shots he saw, and if not for a mistake handling the puck behind his net, it would have been one more. That mistake was likely caused by him taking a look at a wide-open net at the other end of the ice, and it’s hard to blame a goaltender for thinking about a chance to score a goal.
When he has been in the net this season, the 67’s have been comfortable knowing that should they make a mistake, their goaltender will bail them out the majority of the time. You won’t score many weak goals on Cranley, and he has stolen a fair amount of games this season even though his record may not reflect it. It’s easy to see why the St. Louis Blues picked him in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft.
67’s Neutral Zone Play
If you have been watching hockey for any amount of time, you have almost certainly heard the phrases “good stick” and “stick on the puck”. They are phrases that might drive some people insane because they are so simple, but they really matter when you aren’t doing them. During their slide, the 67’s have allowed opponents to make passes in the neutral zone far too easy, but with the Petes in town, they cracked down on this and forced numerous turnovers.
This is no better exemplified than on Thomas Johnston’s first goal when Ranvir Gill-Shane stripped the puck from Joe Carroll, sending Thomas Johnston on a breakaway where he fired the puck over the shoulder of a cheating Tye Austin. This trend was also obvious when the 67’s were penalty killing, particularly in the first period when they had to kill a four-minute double-minor for high sticking.
When the 67’s make themselves hard to play against defensively, they tend to create plenty of transition offence. This is where most of their goals are coming from without some of their best players and it’s been their recipe for success. They played one of their best games in a long time, especially between the blue lines, and if they can keep doing that, they will be just fine.
67’s Back in Action Friday
The 67’s will have a couple of days to sit back and enjoy this win, but they have another tough opponent coming to town on Friday night in the Oshawa Generals. Dylan Robinson will be back in the lineup after being suspended for an ugly hit in Sudbury a few weeks back and his offence will be another welcome addition to the lineup. If they can replicate their game on Wednesday, you have to like their odds of finding a way to take down the Gennies.