by Alex Quevillon
After playing a terrific road game on Friday night, it looked as though the Ottawa 67’s had already found themselves in an insurmountable hole against the Niagara Ice Dogs. One game later, the mindset has completely changed and the 67’s have the ball in their court, earning themselves a well-deserved split heading back to Ottawa.
Game One: Niagara 2, Ottawa 1 (OT)
Game Two: Niagara 4, Ottawa 7
These two teams have very little time to rest, but team owner Jeff Hunt is once again pulling out all the stops to give the 67’s as much of an advantage as possible. The team will be flying out of Mississauga, where they’ve had to locate themselves, while the Ice Dogs bus to Ottawa for the third game tomorrow night.
After all, the team deserves to have a quick, easy travel home. Their weekend trip to St. Catharines was less-than-fortuitous to say the least. As mentioned, they situated themselves in the old home of the Ice Dogs, Mississauga, for the first two games of the series. Unable to find a suitable apartment in the Niagara-St. Catharines area, the 67’s figured that it was better to stay just outside the city. Unfortunately, this caused them to run a little late for the opening game on Friday, and once they did get there, the bus was tagged by a number of “Go Dogs Go” stickers, as well as a parking ticket. The ticket was highly criticized by the Niagara play-by-play announcers on Cogeco this afternoon.
Game one was marred by an incident that, perhaps as a direct result of the game being nationally televised, brought a lot of attention from around the hockey world. After Ice Dogs forward Tom Kuhnhackl scored the first goal of the game, he was thrown heavily into the end boards and, at first look, gets a skate in the back of the head.
Upon further review, and the cameras that happened to pan in on the then-fallen Kuhnackl, showing the skate of Captain Marc-Anthony Zanetti coming back and booting the goalscorer in the back of the head. The questionable play was subtle enough to avoid a penalty from the on-ice officials, but Zanetti has been assessed his second indefinite suspension of the playoffs. Many believe that Ottawa will have to finish their playoff run without a captain, and Zanetti may have played his last game in the OHL.
Following the incident, Nicholas Foglia evened the score with a bizarre goal on Mark Visentin, scoring from behind the net. But once again, Ottawa faced a setback. Jake Cardwell blocked a pair of shots on the same open ankle, limping off the ice both times, barely under his own steam. Cardwell, the only Niagara native on the 67’s, refused to go down without a fight. He finished out the game in front of family and friends. It wasn’t the ending that Ottawa fans were hoping for, however, as Mitchell Theoret scored the overtime winner to give the Ice Dogs a 1-0 series advantage.
The day between games one and two was bleak for the 67’s. Zanetti, as expected and predicted by Sportsnet panelists, was handed an indefinite suspension. As of yesterday, it was said that Cardwell couldn’t walk on his own, either. Already down 1-0 in a series that was heavily tilted against Ottawa, it looked as though they would be without the services of two high-end defenders.
Game two was anything but bleak, however. Carrying momentum over from a strong physical game on Friday, the 67’s killed off two early penalties to Cardwell early in the game and Foglia had Ottawa’s first goal of the game once again, a strange play off of the faceoff that rolled through the legs of Visentin. Cody Ceci had the first powerplay marker of the game exactly halfway through the first period, while Dalton Smith and Shane Prince added markers in the following five minutes. Alex Friesen got Niagara on the board late in the opening frame, but Ottawa carried a 4-1 lead into the dressing rooms.
The Barberpoles received a legitimate scare at the start of the second, allowing two quick powerplay markers and seeing their lead close to one, but a trio of goals from Mike Cazzola, Sean Monahan and finally, the playing-injured Cardwell, put the visitors up for good. A late Niagara goal from David Pacan rounded out the scoring as Ottawa steamrolled the Ice Dogs 7-4.
After making 41 saves for the win in Game One, Visentin was removed in favour of Christopher Festarini after allowing five goals on 13 shots Sunday afternoon. Petr Mrazek was the busier of the two netminders making 93 saves in the two games.
The 67’s vastly improved special teams are a big reason why they were able to level the series at one game apiece. Although they allowed two goals while shorthanded, they killed off four other opportunities, two of which came in the opening five minutes and could have put the game away right off the hop in Niagara’s favour. Ottawa countered with three powerplay goals and a shorthanded tally.
The 67’s are 3-0-2 without Zanetti in the lineup during these playoffs and fans are hoping that they can continue in the footsteps of Ottawa’s NHL team, who find themselves in a similar predicament but are on the verge of knocking off a #1 seed without the services of their Captain.
The aforementioned NHL team, the Senators, may lead to a lessened interest and smaller attendance as Game Three lands the same night as the possibly deciding Game Six between the Sens and New York Rangers. Game Four goes on Wednesday night in Ottawa, while the teams head back to St. Catharines for a now-guaranteed Game Five on Friday night.
See: Zanetti's kick via YouTube.com's alphadog1x