While previewing the 2012-13 season back in August, I had assumed that the Ottawa 67’s would attempt to let Michael Nishi and Keegan Wilson share the crease throughout the year. Not only was that proven wrong very early, a recent turn of events had those two goalies fighting for a spot once again, although this time not a starter’s position, nor a position in the Nation’s Capital.
one pre-season outing, the Gatineau Olympiques.
As Ottawa fans will recall, Wilson struggled out of the gate and only won four of his 15 starts with a goals against average of 3.67 and a save percentage under .900. On November 12, he was a part of one of three trades made by Ottawa, as he departed for Guelph and Clint Windsor came in from the Steelheads.
Not only was the two-goalie system idea put to rest, but less than three months into the season, neither of the two goalies who were originally expected to battle for the starting job were even on the roster anymore. Nobody could’ve imagined, however, that the two would cross paths again.
When Gatineau starting goaltender Robert Steeves returned from surgery and won nine of his first 12 starts, Ottawa’s cross-provincial rival decided to cut Nishi loose. Clearly, the Toronto native wasn’t about to give up on his Major Junior career, deciding to give the OHL another shot.
Ironically, it was the Guelph Storm that was willing to give Nishi that shot, signing him yesterday. Four months after losing his spot in Ottawa to Wilson, Nishi was the one beating out Wilson this time. Wilson, an overager, joined the Georgetown Raiders of the Ontario Junior ‘A’ Hockey League.
Ottawa has allowed a league worst 193 goals this season, and that doesn’t fall entirely on the goalies, it doesn’t for any team, but it hasn’t been an easy year between the pipes. The same two guys who were battling for the starting job here did the same for the backup role in Guelph.
If you count JP Cesario, picked up off of waivers on the eve of the holiday trade freeze from the Owen Sound Attack (but likely won’t be called up before season’s end), eight goaltenders have been with the Barberpoles in the last 12 months; Petr Mrazek, now in the AHL, Shayne Campbell, now playing in the Maritimes, Karsten Pankhurst, now with the Carleton Ravens, along with Jacob Blair, Windsor, Wilson and Nishi.
Although there’s been a revolving door in Ottawa’s crease, they’re hoping that the future is set up nicely. Although his stats don’t show it, the hometown native Blair has been solid when called upon in his rookie campaign. Windsor has also been solid and with a number of 19-year olds being traded away at the trade deadline, he should be a lock to return as an overager.
Blair is expected to be the future starter, and his making the team as a 17-year old should indicate that. Although next year probably won’t be an instant turnaround, the 67’s should be a much better team, and a 20-year old Windsor should be a key part to that team.
However, if we’ve learned anything from this season, you can never count a 17-year old goaltender out under Chris Byrne’s reward-based system. Blair, the 104th overall pick in 2011, earned his spot with a strong pre-season this year. It’s entirely possible that the 104th overall pick in 2012 could do the same next year.
Dan Potter, drafted in the same spot as Blair a year later, joined Blair, Nishi and Wilson as one of four goaltenders at training camp this year. Although his 10-6-0 record with Suffolk of the American Empire Junior Hockey League doesn’t jump off the page at you, he has only allowed three goals in his last three games and was named as the starting goaltender for the league’s Western Conference All-Stars.
“It’s good recognition for him to be named to the game,” said Scott Campbell of Pro Vision Sports Management, who represents Potter. “His team has been pretty middle-of-the-pack but Danny has had a couple of big games.”
“I feel confident that he’s going to have a strong chance of earning a spot with the 67’s next year. He had a good camp with Ottawa this year and made a good impression on the team and with another season of development, I think he will come to camp looking to make the team.”
If this year was any indication, there’s no guarantee that Windsor will be back as an overager, there’s no guarantee Blair will take over the starting role, and there’s no guarantee that Potter will be able to find a spot on the roster.
However, for 67’s fans frustrated by this rebuild, it has to be somewhat re-assuring that they have a few netminders determined to have a spot on next year’s squad, and given Byrne’s system of rewarding results and hard work, the best candidate will be the one who gets the job in nets.