Is it really a junior hockey game if you don’t chew your fingernails down to nothing? When the Ottawa 67’s and the Niagara IceDogs have met this season, they have played the exact style of hockey the Ontario Hockey League has become known for. Back and forth hockey with the game going down to the wire more often than not. This game was no different, and despite some late pressure by the IceDogs, the 67’s managed to hold onto their two points, winning the game 4-3.
Teddy Sawyer Finding His Game
One player who has flown under the radar a little bit this season is NHL Entry Draft eligible defenceman, Teddy Sawyer. Recently, Sawyer has found his game playing with Ranvir Gill-Shane and has come up clutch for the 67’s a couple of times this weekend. On two occasions, once in Peterborough on Thursday night and once in Niagara on Friday night, Sawyer ripped a shot into the top corner of the goal, scoring his second and third goals of the season.
Since coming back from the Christmas break, Sawyer has turned up the heat offensively. In the 10 games since coming back, he has scored seven of his 10 points on the season. This also includes two of his three goals on the season. Not only has he been good offensively, but he has picked up the slack defensively after building some chemistry with Gill-Shane.
There’s a reason that head coach Dave Cameron chose Sawyer as one of the six players who would be a part of the leadership group on the team. He’s a leader on the team and a talented player to boot. His struggles at times this season weren’t holding the team back, but he wasn’t excelling. In the past 10 games, he has become the player that he was expected to be in Ottawa, and with him playing as well as he has, it gives Ottawa another steady and reliable option. If he continues to play like this, you should expect to see him back on the NHL’s draft board.
Josh Rosenzweig Keeps IceDogs In Game
If it wasn’t for IceDogs goaltender Josh Rosenzweig, a comeback would have likely been nothing more than a pipe dream. Time and time again, the 6th round pick in the 2019 OHL Priority Selection for Niagara came up big, making some key saves at big moments to keep the IceDogs in the game. He stopped 17 of the 21 shots fired his way, but the shot clock alone doesn’t do his game justice.
Rosenzweig turned aside a couple of great chances for the 67’s including a couple of cross-crease chances that likely should have ended up in the back of the net. Without him back there, this game could have easily been even more lopsided in favour of the 67’s and the game could have been over long before the final buzzer put Niagara out of their misery.
Tit for tat, Rosenzweig and 67’s goaltender Max Donoso went back and forth with big saves and put on a goaltending performance to be admired. There’s a good chance that he could be back in action when the IceDogs come to TD Place on Sunday, and finding a way to crack him will be a key for the 67’s in that contest should he be the starter.
Chris Barlas Ejected
If there was one big piece of negative news to come out of this game from a 67’s standpoint, it would be rookie Chris Barlas being ejected from the game for a head check. Late in the first period, Barlas came across the ice to lay a check on Sami Douglas-Najem but caught him in the head, resulting in Douglas-Najem staying down on the ice for a few moments. Although he would return to the game later in the second period, Barlas was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct for the check.
The hit, while likely not intentional, will probably land Barlas in some hot water over at the OHL league offices. You would have to imagine that this hit will carry some kind of suspension, possibly in the range of two games could be coming. It comes at about the most unfortunate time for Barlas as well. He has been playing better hockey as of late, even setting up Will Gerrior for the 67’s first goal of the game on Friday night. It’s an unfortunate situation for everyone involved, but for Barlas, you have to hope that if a suspension is coming, he can hit the ground running when he does come back.
67’s Near Total Collapse
In junior hockey, no lead is safe no matter how big it is or how little time is left on the clock. That was once again the case in this contest, and things got hairy quickly for the 67’s. With four minutes to go in the game, Ottawa led by four goals and it looked like they would be on cruise control to end the game, but that wasn’t the case.
Liam Van Loon got the IceDogs on the board with just under four minutes to play on a two-man advantage. Under a minute later, Brice Cooke scored another for Niagara. At this point, there was still no reason for panic, but the IceDogs were quickly making things interesting.
With just under a minute and a half to play in regulation, former 67’s forward Brenden Sirizzotti cut Ottawa’s lead to one, and the heat was on for the barber pole’s bench. As Niagara continued to press in the final seconds of the game, Jack Matier came up huge with a blocked shot that would have otherwise sailed into an open goal to tie the game. The disaster was averted and the 67’s held on to take this game 4-3.
This was far from the 67’s best game of the season. In the opening 10 minutes of the game, they looked slow and disjointed, but they cleaned it up and played solid hockey for the following 30 minutes. In the third period, they weren’t quite as crisp and they allowed the IceDogs back into the game. They will take the win, but they will also know that there is improvement to be had.
Ready For a Rematch
The 67’s have done well to secure all four points available to them on the road to start the weekend, but now, they return home to close the weekend against these same IceDogs on Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. They have clawed their way back to .500 and sit well clear of a playoff spot at the moment, but they have another chance to extend that distance on Sunday. Although some teams above them in the standings have games to make up, Ottawa has brought themselves back into the conversation in the Eastern Conference.