It’s been a while since the 67’s have had a perfect weekend where they played three games, but they have been playing great hockey as of late. With a win over the Niagara IceDogs on Sunday afternoon, the 67’s not only swept the weekend but also brought themselves back over the .500 mark for the first time since early December. A 5-2 win was the outcome as the 67’s outplayed the IceDogs virtually the entire contest, but the weekend sweep was a reward for their deserving play in the past month and a half.
Cam Tolnai Breaks Drought
Not since November 27th has 67’s leading scorer Cam Tolnai scored a goal. It was a stretch of 20 games where the veteran forward was gripping the stick a little tight, and while not for a lack of chances, he couldn’t buy a goal. That changed on Sunday afternoon when he tapped in a cross-crease pass in the second period.
“It’s definitely in the back of your head,” said Tolnai of the drought. “We’ve won our last couple of games, were 8-2-0-1 in our last 11 games, so you can’t complain when you are winning. I just try to do my best, obviously, I’m one of the older guys on the team so putting in pucks is one aspect of it, but winning faceoffs, playing well in the defensive zone, setting up my teammates are other areas that I have been focusing on.”
“I think Vinni [Rohrer] made a great pass, so it was basically a back door tap-in,” said Tolnai. “I didn’t have to do much on that play, but it was definitely nice to snap [the drought]. The goal isn’t everything, as long as we are winning, everyone is happy. The more we win, the further we get in the playoffs, the better everyone will look.”
“It’s a long stretch to go for one of the guys you rely on for offence,” said 67’s head coach Dave Cameron. “Cam is like our team in that it’s a little easier when you are having trouble scoring if you are playing the right way. We have to score in volume. We have to get pucks and bodies to the net and they will generate a lot of chances and a lot of shots.”
“You always talk to your players when you think they are struggling. In Cam’s case, I think a lot of it was that we over-played him. I think a lot of his missteps were a lack of energy and there’s no real substitute for that. I think he’s going to get way better once we get back and we get healthy and we are able to play four lines.”
Tolnai is a key piece for the 67’s, and even while he has been struggling to score goals, he has continued to play good hockey. Despite this being just his eighth goal of the season, he has registered 26 assists and has done his fair share of work in the defensive side of center ice.
Chemistry Boosting 67’s Confidence
Wherever you look in the lineup, there will be some noticeable consistencies that have popped up that you may not have seen early in the season. Whether it has been the “lawyer line” (shout out to 67’s radio play-by-play man Kenny Walls for that one) that consists of Thomas Johnston, Alex Johnston, and Thomas Sirman, or a defensive pair that consists of Teddy Sawyer and Ranvir Gill-Shane, it has helped boost the team’s confidence and it is translating to success on the ice.
“This game is about chemistry, and certain guys seem to fit with certain guys,” Cameron said. “It’s a more cohesive unit when they do that, but I think we can say that through all of our lines. Now we’re starting to get some cohesiveness, guys are starting to play with guys, and if there’s some chemistry there, they seem to be a half step and a second quicker in the process, and when that happens, you are the faster team.”
The Sawyer and Gill-Shane pairing has been particularly good. Two players who started the season below expectations went into the Christmas break looking to right the ship, and since being paired together, they have become arguably the team’s best and most reliable pairing.
“We’ve had quite a bit of chemistry going,” said Sawyer. “It’s been great, we know where each other are going to be on the ice and the next move mentality of what we are going to do next. From the beginning of the year, we were kinda rotating through the defence and figuring out who plays well together, and it’s been a good fit after Christmas. We talk in the room quite a bit between periods, before the game, after the game, things on the bench we can do better, so we’re talking a lot. We’ve grown a lot closer on and off the ice, so that’s helping us too. I’m glad to have him as my partner.”
A Massive Weekend
There are numerous reasons why this was a big weekend for the 67’s. Firstly, picking up six points in three games against teams you are battling with for a playoff spot is huge. There’s good distance being put between them and the IceDogs, Peterborough Petes, and the Sudbury Wolves in the standings. They also got themselves over .500 for the first time since losing to the Mississauga Steelheads in early December. Finally, they continue to close the gap between themselves and the Oshawa Generals, Barrie Colts, and North Bay Battalion ahead of them.
“We got off to a real good start [this season] and then we kinda hit a wall a little bit and got away from our structure,” said Cameron. “Now, we’ve got the structure back and we’ve climbed back above the .500 mark and now the challenge will be to stay there. We had a real good week this week, we won three games. The good thing about those three games is that we were deserving to win. It wasn’t like we had to get exceptional goaltending, but we’ve been a lot more supportive and were creating a lot of opportunities without giving a lot up.”
As great as the points are, Cameron is more pleased to know that his team is playing good hockey. His team is showing that they can play the game he wants them to play, and they are showing that they can win games when they play that way.
“It’s not the points, it’s the process in how we play,” said Cameron. “Very comfortable and pleased with the way we played, our structure, and our compete level. That was the reason we got the six points. It will be no different when we play the tops teams, it will be the same formula and certainly, it’s more exciting when you do get to play those teams when your team is playing well.”
67’s Injury Update
The health of the 67’s continues to be an important talking point, however, it seems like things are getting much better in that regard. Cameron shared some promising news after the game regarding some of his top players, inclining Jack Beck, Adam Varga, and Tyler Boucher.
“I was all excited coming back from the World Juniors because I figured now we are going to be healthy,” said Cameron. “We haven’t got that and we joke among the staff thinking about a year with a healthy lineup as the twilight zone.”
“We have Jack Beck and Adam Varga who are skating and getting closer day by day. I think there was a time when the timeline of both those guys was probably week by week, but I think it’s getting closer to now to day-to-day.”
“With Tyler Boucher with his shoulder, it’s a lot better than it was and we’re probably looking at another couple of weeks for him, but certainly, the news is better than what we thought the initial diagnosis would be.”
Now, Things Get Hard
The 67’s have done a good job at beating the teams that they should beat as of late, but starting next weekend, things are going to get plenty more difficult for them. They are going to see some of the Eastern Conference’s premier teams for the next little while, but that also doubles as a good chance to make up some points on the teams just overhead of them in the standings. With how they have been playing as of late, they could surprise some people, especially if they get the likes of Beck and Varga back sooner rather than later.