The North Bay Battalion took on the Ottawa 67’s at the Arena at TD Place on Sunday afternoon and earned their ninth consecutive win, improving their point total to 62, good for third in the Eastern Conference. It was once again a game that ended with a score that makes the 67’s look much worse than they actually were, and thanks to a couple of late goals including one on the empty net, the Battalion took a 6-2 win in hostile territory. In front of 1,736 fans, the 67’s struggled to put the puck in the net, but they gave a valiant effort against one of the best teams in the league.
Healthy For the First Time This Season
The 67’s are now 47 games into the 2021-22 season, and for the first time, they are completely healthy. There are just 21 more games on the schedule for the team and the playoff push is already well underway, but at long last, they will have options in their lineup. When the season kicked off, they were missing defenceman Alec Belanger who has since been traded to East Division rival, the Kingston Frontenacs, and since then, they have been hampered with injuries to just about every player in their lineup at one point or another.
Those injuries have been particularly brutal for the 67’s and their veteran players. Jack Beck has missed months on end, Adam Varga has missed nearly 20 games, and recent addition Tyler Boucher has been struggling to get into the lineup since arriving. At long last, and hopefully permanently, the 67’s are at full health and can finally allow head coach Dave Cameron to organize his lineup as he chooses. With everyone healthy, the 67’s mindset can change from just finding a way to survive to thriving and being competitive when the playoffs start.
“With Jack Beck, he’s going to help our offence,” said Cameron. “With Boucher, he’s going to help our size, our speed, and some forechecking. With Varga back, he’s going to give us that veteran experience with some speed, but they are back in the lineup which is the first step. It’s going to take them a little while to get back up to speed and through this process, I’m going to have to sort through who they are best suited with.”
For all three of Beck, Boucher, and Varga, a considerable amount of time was lost. For the players themselves, the lost time would have been hard to swallow and they want to be on the ice, but for the team, it created an ask out the young players they simply weren’t ready for. They needed to play the role of the missing players, and as rookies, that was a big ask. Now with the veterans back in the lineup, it eases the pressure on their shoulders, and those who were missing are thrilled to be back on the ice.
“It’s definitely been a long time so there was a big rehab circuit there, but now it’s getting a lot better and I’m feeling close to 100 percent,” Beck said. “There’s still plain, of course, but you have to play through it, everyone plays through pain.”
“It’s hard missing time,” said Boucher. “It’s something that I have been battling for about a year and a half now, it’s a part of hockey. I feel good to be back and it’s nice to play a home game, I’m thankful to be here. We’ve got a real good group of guys and the best is ahead.”
67’s Close, Goals Not Coming
Why did the scoreline look so flattering to North Bay? Well, the pair of goals late in the game certainly did some window dressing, but the 67’s inability to put the puck in the back of the net over the past couple of games continued into this one. They had the chances, they just couldn’t sink them
“As coaches, we sit and talk and we say that a lot of times, were just one play away,” Cameron said. “If you look at both our goals, it was [Matthew] Mayich getting the puck to the net and Beck getting rebounds, but then you see in other scenarios where we were down around the net and we made that extra pass.”
“We just made terrible passes,” he added. “There were just way too many [terrible passes] today.”
“A lot of it comes down to puck poise,” claimed Cameron. “Just taking that extra second and being over the top of the puck, and if it is bouncing, just settle it down. We are getting better at it, it just seems that today there was room for improvement.”
If hockey was about anything other than the goals scored in the game, the 67’s would be doing pretty well for themselves right now. Despite losing by large margins in their past couple of contests, they have improved on their special teams and they have been in the game more often than not. When they get the scoring problem taken care of, they will be alright.
“I think we’re playing great,” Beck said. “Pucks just aren’t going away and other teams are getting lucky bounces. I find our team hasn’t gotten any luck lately, but we’ve been playing strong and I think we have dominated a lot of the games in the first two periods, were just not scoring on our chances.”
Family Day Doesn’t Mean Friendly
Family Monday is a great chance to spend some time with your loved ones, that is unless you play junior hockey. The 67’s will be heading to Kingston to take on their heated rival for the second time in four days, and the last time they played, things got chippy. They will need to be at their absolute best to salvage a good result from this one, but fans should expect some more bad blood between the two. As if that wasn’t juicy enough, the Fronts will be in Ottawa on Wednesday night for another matchup. This is as close as a playoff series in the regular season can get, and we will likely see some serious fireworks before the home and home series is over.