This has been an outstanding week for hockey in Canada. And Hockey Day isn’t until tomorrow!
The Canadian World Juniors Team proved all the pundits wrong (what the heck do they know anyway) and took the gold medal last night by seriously outplaying the highly rated and favoured Russian team. And Team Quebec won the Under-17 Hockey Challenge by defeating Team USA in Regina on Wednesday evening. Tonight we took a few moments to recognize the exceptional young hockey players in our arena who participated in these two tournaments. Ottawa 67s owner Jeff Hunt presented gifts to WJH Team Canada Gold Medal winners Michael Blunden (a local boy) and Ryan O”Marra, and our own Logan Couture who played for Team Ontario in the Under-17 Hockey Challenge. Michael Blunden scored two power play goals last night in that impressive 6 – 0 win over the Russians. Logan Couture had 5 goals and 3 assists during his play in Regina. Everyone was on their feet cheerin’, hollerin’ and otherwise loudly expressing their appreciation for these fine young athletes. It was a great moment. Good on ya to the 67s organization and everyone in the arena! This is how hockey should be celebrated!
OK – ‘nuff of that – back to the selfish business of Ottawa winning games…
Tonight’s game was the battle of two OHL teams hovering closer to the bottom of their respective conferences than the top. Erie was in 7th spot tied with Windsor with 34 points and 6 points back of 6th place Saginaw. Ottawa was in 8th place in the Eastern Conference with 39 points in a much tighter race where only 4 points separated the 3rd and 8th spots. On the upside for Erie, this was their first game of their eastern conference swing, they were coming off a come-from-behind win over Plymouth Whalers, and they welcomed back their (exhausted I expect) heroes from the WJH tournament. The dressing room must have been awesome – imagine the inspiration of seeing two of your team mates with their gold medals after the awesome play the night before (I’m guessing the medals were there – I do not have any specific knowledge of that). Working for Ottawa, they were coming off a fine win in Kingston and welcomed back a much-missed Logan Couture.
First Period: Frankly I was expecting Erie to be seriously jazzed with the return of Blunden and O’Marra. But Ottawa owned them from the get-go. Less than 3 minutes into the game, Julian Talbot scored first aided by the great work of Bryan Bickel and the sharp-shooting of Chris Hulit. Bryan started it by plowing through two Erie players along the boards with the puck and getting it to Chris who rung it off the post. Julian was there to pick up the rebound and snap it past Erie’s Josh Disher. Ottawa got its second goal at the 12:01 mark of the frame when Chris Hulit ended his drought by beating the goalie through the 5-hole. Julian and Bryan assisted on that goal. Erie was not about to roll over – they came back close to the end of the period (a dangerous time for our team) on the power play when Adam Berti got the goal with assists from Michael Blunden and Ryan O’Marra at the 18:58 mark of the frame. Before we get too excited about the contribution of these two guys (Blunden and O’Marra now of WJH fame) I should note that they were also on the ice for Ottawa’s two previous goals; plus/minus not looking so good but one can forgive them since they just came off probably the most emotional experience of their hockey careers and then flew 3 time-zones to play in Ottawa tonight. Gotta appreciate their effort!
Erie took 4 penalties for the period, actually being down 2 men for 1:42 minutes, but they managed to come out of this trouble unscathed. Ottawa took only 1 penalty and Erie scored. Score after the first period: 2 – 1 Ottawa; shots on goal: 11 – 8 for Ottawa.
Second Period: Ottawa continued to dominate the play in the second period and scored two goals to Erie’s one goal. Erie took 6 penalties in the period but Ottawa only managed to score on one of them (which turns out to be their only PP goal of the night despite having the man advantage 9 times). The Crazy-8’s were back in action with the return of Logan Couture. Erie’s Nick Palmieri was taking a time-out for a high-sticking infraction when Jamie McGinn scored with the help of his crazy line mates Pat Daley and Logan Couture. Then, at about the half-way mark, Pat Ouellette got the unassisted goal when he banked one off one of the Erie players. In an effort that will undoubtedly improve the PP stats of Erie (Ottawa was assessed only 3 penalties and Erie scored on two of them – not a good PK stat), Michael Blunden scored at the 16:11 mark of the period while Logan was cooling his heels for a tripping penalty. Michael was assisted by line mates Bret Nasby and Sean O’Connor.
Things got a bit rough near the end of the period. If memory serves me correctly (and that’s not a given) Erie player Chris Greene took a nasty shot at an Ottawa player and was about to earn himself a time-out in the naughty-spot when Tibor Raduly waded into the action. I don’t think we’ve seen this side of him. Tibor and Erie player Chad Loikets went at it and without a lot of fuss and bother, Tibor won the day. No serious damage was inflicted by either party. Both gentlemen (in a hockey sense anyway) were assessed 5 minutes to calm down and reflect on their actions. Ottawa was unable to convert on the man advantage.
Score at the end of the second period: 4 – 2 Ottawa with total shots on goal: 27 – 14 for Ottawa.
Third Period: Ottawa continued to dominate in the third period scoring three unanswered, evenly spaced goals. Bryan Bickell started it with an unassisted goal 3 minutes into the period. He was nice and patient, waiting for the goalie to commit before potting the pretty goal. At this point, Erie pulled goalie Josh Disher in favour of rookie goalie Ryan Ludzk. According to the stats on the OHL site, Ryan had only played for 17 minutes in 1 previous game. It didn’t take too long for the 67s to take advantage of him. Arron Alphonso reached behind to pick up a pass from Thomas Kiriakou and sped into the Erie zone to get one past the new guy. Joe Plekaitis also assisted on the goal. Ottawa did not lay off with the 6 – 2 advantage. At about the mid-way mark, the Crazy-8’s got on the board again when Matt Lahey took a nice feed from Jaimie McGinn and scored. Logan Couture also contributed to the goal. Only one penalty was assessed in the third period and that was to Erie which they killed. Final score: 7 – 2 for Ottawa; shots on goal after 3: 39 – 22 Ottawa.
Thoughts: Like they did when they beat Peterborough, Ottawa showed us the art of the possible. They played well, passing was accurate, defense was good and they had a ton of scoring opportunities (many ooh – ahh moments for the fans and all 4 lines scored). Ottawa clearly outplayed Erie and Ottawa clearly played like a team that wanted to win. I tried to keep track of the line changes tonight and by my reckoning (don’t bet the house payment on it) it appeared that Coach was keeping the shifts as short as possible in the first two periods. I counted about 25 line changes in the first frame, 28 in the second and 19 in the third. A big difference from the last few games. And Ottawa won. Coincidence? I would imagine that an upcoming practice may focus on the specialty teams as Ottawa only went 1 / 9 on the power play while Erie went 2 / 3.
A solid start to the weekend. Ottawa is on the road to play the two last place teams in the conference – Oshawa tomorrow and Mississauga on Sunday. Oshawa lost 5 – 1 to Kingston tonight while Missy lost to Barrie 4 – 7. The conference remains tight with Brampton in 3rd place with 45 points, Kingston in 4th place with 44 points and St. Mikes in 8th place with 40 points. Ottawa, Belleville and Sudbury have 41 points each with Belleville still holding a game in hand.
Three Stars of the Game:
First Star: Bryan Bickell (goal and 2 assists)
Second Star: Matt Lahey (goal and an assist)
Third Star: Chris Hulit (goal and an assist)
Hardest Working 67: Julian Talbot