Unlike previous weeks where the Ottawa 67’s of the Ontario Hockey League had weeks off between games, they were right back on the ice after beating the Peterborough Petes on Friday night. The game would be delayed shortly while the Sudbury Wolves overcame some bus troubles, but 30 minutes is nothing compared to the weeks that we have seen in the past.
It was a game that was going to give the 67’s young roster a good test as the Wolves came in hot after beating the Kingston Frontenacs 8-4 on Friday night. The young players were up to the challenge, however, and the 67’s won their third consecutive game, beating the Wolves 5-4 in a shootout.
Max Donoso Steadies the Game
Very rarely this season has Will Cranley struggled as much as he did on Saturday afternoon, and despite a couple of the goals he allowed being nearly unstoppable, the change was made after four goals on eight shots. Backup goaltender Max Donoso was forced into action and shut the door the rest of the way. He made some big saves in the third period, overtime, and finally in the shootout and picked up his first win in his OHL career for his efforts.
“He was real solid,” said head coach Dave Cameron. “Just one of those games where early on the puck just happened to find the back of the net. The power-play goal they got, the puck hit their guy and kinda stuck to him and got lost in the shuffle and it ended up in the back of our net. Just having one of those days for Cranley and Donoso came in and did a really good job.”
“It’s an amazing feeling,” said Donoso. “I’ve played like four games prior to this, so to get the first win is an amazing feeling. It’s something that I wanted to get off my back before the Christmas break, but it didn’t go that way. Just really relieved and happy, that’s all I can say.”
“I have a good team in front of me and they kept the shots to a minimum,” he said. “Sometimes, that’s not beneficial because coming in cold, you want to take all the shots and you want to get warm, but the team eased me into it.”
Heading into the shootout, the pressure was undeniably high. Donoso, however, has experience in pressure-packed situations in the past, both on and off the ice. During his time away from the rink during COVID, he studied to become a pilot. While hockey helped him prepare for the pressures of flying, the pressures of flying would certainly have the same benefits on his game on the ice.
“It’s a scary feeling when the flight instructor leaves the plane and you’re all by yourself,” Donoso said of his first solo flight earlier this year. “The hockey helped me. When you’re under pressure, when you’re making the calls to air traffic control, when you’re getting ready to taxi and land after two big jets. You have to stay calm under pressure, be ready for emergencies.”
He was prepared mentally by all of his previous experiences, but on the ice, he had tried to put himself in a good spot for just this scenario.
“Always after practice I take shootouts, so kinda practicing all kinds of moves so I know every move in the book pretty much,” he said with a grin. “I just kinda let myself do what I do and the results were good today.”
When the plane you expect to use suddenly breaks down and you need to change to plan ‘B’, the second pane needs to be ready to go. In this case, Donoso was that second plane and he was more than ready to go.
Will Gerrior Finally Scores
In the past handful of games, Will Gerrior has picked up his game as he has been routinely forced a play big minutes the team likely never would have expected him to play at the start of the season. Gerrior was the 67’s ninth-round pick in the 2020 OHL Priority Selection and played his way onto the team in training camp. Although he has played well for most of the season, he couldn’t buy a goal. On Saturday, that finally changed, however.
“Very excited for him,” said Cameron who admitted he didn’t have a reaction on the bench to the goal being scored. “Will is playing real good hockey for us, he was good last night, he was real good tonight. I think he’s taken a deep breath the last two games and realized that no one is putting any pressure on him to score other than himself. We’re just trying to convince him to play the right way, and if he plays the right way, he will get more ice time, and if he gets ice time, he will score.”
“I thought he did a real good job of managing the puck through the neutral zone, too.”
The Ottawa native has certainly had his chances to score this season, but he seemed to be gripping the stick a little too hard at times. Post-Christmas break, he’s stepped his game up in other areas and earned himself more ice time, but there’s nothing like scoring your first goal, and his smile post-game was a clear indication of that.
“Obviously I was pretty excited after the goal,” Gerrior said. “Playing with [Vinzenz] Rohrer and [Vsevolod] Gaidamak really made it easier to play out there. It was great playing with them and obviously very excited about the goal.”
“Christmas break was pretty big for me. Being able to go back on the outdoor rink and just play with some of my buddies and build some confidence there and I feel like I’ve brought that into my game. Starting to play better, and playing with my two linemates is making it really easy to play, so it’s been great.”
Gerrior credits getting on the outdoor rink at Fisher Park and playing some massive 20 on 20 games for helping boost his confidence. Though it was a dream for Gerrior to play for the hometown 67’s, his rookie season hasn’t come without its challenges. Getting back to the playing-for-fun mindset was important to him.
“Hockey was pretty stressful,” Gerrior admitted. “Coming to Ottawa, I’ve always wanted to play here, but it’s just so big. Going back and just playing with my friends from home and getting on the outdoor rink with no pressure or anything, I really think that helped my confidence. Playing hockey for fun again and bringing that to my game the past few games really helped me I think.”
When asked where the puck was going, he was quick to thank his parents saying he wouldn’t be where he is today without them. The puck will sit proudly displayed somewhere in the Gerrior household.
Alex Johnston Scores First as a 67
With Gerrior and Donoso reaching some impressive milestones, Alex Johnston scoring his first goal since committing to the 67’s was somewhat swept under the rug. Like Gerrior, Johnston has had his chances to score, but things finally materialized for him on Saturday. He critically blocked a shot and led the breakout before pouncing on a rebound, beating Mitchell Weeks to tie the game at two late in the first period.
This was far from Johnston’s first goal, in fact, it was another milestone in that regard as he scored his 20th career goal. In his first eight games with the team, he has a goal and two assists, but crucially, he has been a steady veteran presence in all three zones. He continues to prove that it was a good move to bring him in, especially when the cost was nothing.
67’s Youth Playing Like Veterans
When you come to the rink on a given night, you never really know who will be the one to step up for the 67’s. On Saturday, it was Gerrior, Luca Pinelli, Donoso, Johnston, and Jack Matier, but on other nights, it could be an entirely different cast. They have made do with what they have, especially recently.
“That’s exactly what we need,” said Cameron. “That’s a trait of our hockey club and it’s the grind of the season. It’s part of having back-to-back games, you’re going to have to rely on different people at different times and that’s what makes good teams competitive.”
Perhaps just as impressive is their ability to keep their heads when the Wolves claimed a two-goal lead despite being outplayed for most of the game. There wasn’t panic and they worked even harder and found the tying goal before the end of the period. They looked like a veteran hockey club this weekend despite some key veterans remaining sidelined for various reasons.
“That’s one of the things we have been talking about since we’ve had the break and had lots of practice time,” Cameron said. “As a team, we are going to have to be resilient. The game doesn’t always go the way you plan and I thought through the first two periods if you look at the chances we had versus the chances they had, I think they got four goals on eight shots, we were snake bitten. That’s the way it goes.”
Much Needed Win Streak
Having now won three consecutive games, the 67’s are seeing their points percentage inch closer to .500. They continue to rank seventh in the Eastern Conference in that respect, but with how they have been playing recently, they have to be confident in themselves, especially once they are finally healthy.