After losing twice to the Kingston Frontenacs by a combined score of 14-3, you would be forgiven to think the Ottawa 67’s didn’t stand a chance when they met again on Wednesday night. In a shocking turn of events, the 67’s turned things around and controlled the game, and finally, they were able to get back in the win collum after a six-game losing streak was snapped. Their 4-1 win was a result of a good effort, some luck, and a top line firing on all cylinders.
Boucher, Tolnai, Beck Line Heating Up
With health comes options, and for the 67’s, they finally have the choice to balance their lineup in the way they would like it. For the first time, Tyler Boucher, Cam Tolnai, and Jack Beck were together on the team’s top line and they seemed to click right off the bat. They controlled the pace of the game and were responsible for a great deal of the offence, and immediately, they showed that they can be a force to be reckoned with around the OHL.
“There’s a good mixture on the line,” said head coach Dave Cameron. “You’ve got Tolnai in the middle who is a really smart player who reads the puck. You’ve got Beck who is a finisher and has a really good shot. You have Boucher who is the bull in the china shop. They just have to make sure now that they don’t think they have to stickhandle the puck into the net every time.”
“We’re really struggling to score,” claimed Cameron. “It’s trying to put some units together that can give us some chance to score. You have Beck that is your pure scorer, but you have to give him guys that can get offensive zone time for him. My only concern when I put them together is that you have Beck who hadn’t played in three months and you have Boucher who hasn’t played a whole lot. We will leave them together for a little while and see what happens.”
Cameron has said at times this season that they don’t have a first, second, or third line, however, it has become clear that he has lines that he is willing to use more frequently than others. This line will be the de facto first line, especially if they continue to play as they did on Wednesday night, they were head and shoulders above anything the team has seen from any line this season.
“We’re relied on a lot offensively and defensively,” said Tolnai. “We’re kinda the leaders on the team so we just want to step up and breaking the slide was huge.”
“Boucher and I sit beside each other in the room and then Beck is roommates with Boucher so [we’ve been] gelling in the room and outside of the rink,” Tolnai explained. “They are great players so it’s easy to play with them.”
The offence that they have provided early in their time together is a sigh of relief for the 67’s after they struggled to find the back of the net for weeks on end. This line producing at the top of the lineup should allow for the lines below them to get going down the stretch and perhaps could power them to a playoff upset if they get a favourable matchup.
Total Team Performance
It wasn’t just the top line that was making things happen on Wednesday night, it was a total team effort where everyone found a way to chip in one way or another. The bounces finally went their way after weeks of playing well and not getting the result as well.
“We had the lead, we weren’t chasing,” said Cameron. “We got the confidence with having the lead and played all four lines so we were able to keep the pace going. I thought we did a good job with the pace.”
“You get tired of saying ‘we did a lot of good things’ and so on,” he continued. “That get’s old and you have to get rewarded for it.”
“Our puck poise was good tonight,” he said. “I thought there were some opportunities in the defensive zone where our forwards were open but they were going away from the puck. That allowed Kingston to close the gap, so I still think our defensive zone exits can be a little smoother.”
Goaltending has been an area of concern for the 67’s in the past handful of weeks, however. Both Max Donoso and Will Cranley have been struggling, and after being the reason they were in so many games early in the season, they have let the team down at times over the past few weeks. That changed on Wednesday night, however. Although the only goal Donoso allowed was one that he would like to have back, he was clutch when it mattered most and played his best game in some time.
“You need goaltending,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what level or what league or in and it doesn’t matter who you are playing, at some point, your goaltender is going to need to make some saves and Max [Donoso] made them tonight.”
If there was one thing the 67’s would hope to change going forward, it’s the struggles of import forward Vsevolod Gaidamak. While Gaidamak is still third on the team in points this season and is tied for the team lead in goals with Beck, it has been 15 games since his last goal, something Cameron desperately wants to turn around.
“I need Gaidamak to get going now,” Cameron said. “I thought he was much better tonight and I thought he had some really good chances. He was involved in the game tonight. He’s gone through a period of time where he hasn’t scored and it has affected his overall game. If we can get him going, then I think we will have two lines that can score and then the other two lines will be good defensively and chip in with a goal here and there.”
It’s only a matter of time before Gaidamak is able to find the back of the net, and when he does, it’s not far-fetched to think that it could open the flood gates for him. He is a scorer and has shown that to be true throughout his first season in the OHL, but his production has been missed by the team for the past handful of weeks. When it comes back, they will be much better off.
Anthony Costantini Breaks Goaless Drought
Another player who has been struggling to find the back of the net is defenceman, Anthony Costantini. For 28 games, the veteran hadn’t been able to score a goal, but finally, Costantini unleashed a rocket of a shot in the middle of the first period that banked off the post and into the net to give the 67’s a 1-0 lead.
“It felt pretty good,” Costantini said. “I was always thinking about it going to the game like ‘when am I going to score next,’ so it’s just good to get it over with again.”
Costantini has been a valuable piece to the team this season even when he hasn’t been scoring. He has taken on an increased role on the defensive side of the rink and has done a good job of helping his team keep the puck out of their own net. He mau not need the offensive production to be important to the team, however, his production certainly helps, especially when others are struggling.
“Especially with me being an older guy now, I’m held to a bigger role in the back end, so I’m getting used to doing more things like [backchecking harder] and it’s been going pretty good.”
Alec Belanger Returns to Ottawa
For the first time since being traded at the Trade Deadline earlier this season, Alec Belanger returned to Ottawa to face his former team. In an effort to both recouperate some assets lost in previous seasons and to set themselves up for 2022-23, the 67’s decided to send Belanger to the Frontenacs in exchange for a trio of draft picks. They have already seen a solid dose of their former teammate, but this was the first time he and the Fronts made the trip to TD Place since the trade took place.
“To be honest, it’s pretty weird to see a guy that you have been around for a long time get traded,” said Costantini. “I didn’t really get the chance to talk to him, I just gave him a couple of smiles on the ice.”
Belanger was greeted with a round of applause from appreciative fans early in the game as they thanked him for 104 games with the barber poles. In his time in Ottawa, Belanger scored seven goals and added another 13 assists, but most notably stepped up to play as a forward in the 2019-20 season when the 67’s were missing some key names. Since arriving in Kingston, Belanger has scored two goals and added another four assists in just 19 games, including a goal in his first ever game as a member of the Frontenacs.
Still, Things Get Harder
If four games in six days against the Frontenacs three times and the North Bay Battalion once weren’t hard enough, it gets another step tougher for the 67’s this weekend and into the following week. This weekend, they will take on the Hamilton Bulldogs on Saturday and the Mississauga Steelheads on Sunday before taking on the Oshawa Generals, the Bulldogs again, and the Barrie Colts the week after. To make matters worse, they will all be on the road. It’s going to be a tough run, but if they play as they did on Wednesday, they might steal a win or two out of it.