March 16, 2014

A Late-Season Collapse; The 2013-14 67's In Review

If there were a game to perfectly sum up the last two seasons of Ottawa 67’s hockey – coming so close to making things interesting only to lose in embarrassing fashion – it was Sunday’s game in North Bay, a 12-1 blowout loss to eliminate them from playoff contention.

Had the 67’s won the game, they would have played a one-game playoff against Mississauga to decide who took the eighth and final playoff spot in the East.

Instead, they allowed four goals in the first 21 minutes, removing overaged goalie Philippe Trudeau with the score 6-1, only to put him back between the pipes so that his CHL career didn’t come to an end on the bench.

Ryan Van Stralen scored the only goal of the game for the road squad, although a moot point in the last game of his OHL career, every game of it played with the Barberpoles. 

Embarrassing an effort as this was, it’s not the first time Ottawa’s seen such a game.

They had the same situation, albeit on the other side of the equation, 11 years ago in March 2003.

On the final day of that year’s regular season, the Kingston Frontenacs needed a win to force a one-game playoff, also with a Mississauga team, the then-Mississauga IceDogs.

Instead, they came out flat and got obliterated 11-4 by the 67's. 

Ottawa went on to win the Eastern Conference championship that year.  

Kingston hasn’t won a playoff series since.

This Ottawa franchise is a far cry from what it was 11 years ago, and now they have to avoid falling into the same losing roundabout as their rivals did in the same situation.

A respectable start

This wasn't the story of the 67's all year.  They weren't always a team that underperformed.  They remained a team that floated around the .500 level for the first month of the season.

Nothing amazing, but most rebuilding teams have to face the struggle of squeaking in.  Kingston finished eighth after their atrocious first year of a rebuild, but at least there was some progress.  All Ottawa fans wanted was a bit of the same.

Joseph Blandisi started to establish himself as a star sniper.  We quickly found out the star power that Travis Konecny had.  The two import defencemen were as good as can be.  

And Ottawa thought they had their starting goalie for the year.  Philippe Trudeau, a star in his own regard in the 2013 QMJHL playoffs, bounced around the Q before ending up in Ottawa, bumping fellow overager Clint Windsor out of town.

As it turned out, Windsor was named an all-star in the Maritime Junior League this week while his ex-team completely collapsed.  Talk about getting the last laugh.


It's difficult to blame injuries for a team's trouble at this level when everyone goes through them, but it's worth mentioning regardless.

Mike Vlajkov, the only true veteran on the back end, went down relatively early and had to have season-ending surgery.  

Adrian Sloboda needs to get surgery now as well after an injury-riddled season.

Taylor Davis missed significant time with a concussion.

And finally, in the last week of the season, Erik Bradford broke his femur.  Although the fact that he was on the 67's top line would've been a shock to fans at the start of the year.

The trade deadline

Everyone was ready for Van Stralen to leave the 67's, or for them to be a petty seller at the deadline.

Instead, they made a move that, at the time, didn't make much sense for either team, sending Blandisi to Barrie for hard-working Bradford and a pair of picks.

Little did we know Bradford would toss aside his checking line role to play top-line minutes in Ottawa.  Hard a worker as he was, he could only do so much.

They also picked up Liam Herbst, the highly-touted goaltending prospect from London, to shore up their future in goal and give Trudeau a break, as he started 28 in a row.

Trudeau was over-worked, both in games played, and in shots faced, leading the OHL in the category.  

"Halfway efforts"

Chris Byrne clearly felt the season falling apart after a late January game, where the 67's spotted the Frontenacs a five-goal lead, scoring four in the third to make things interesting, only to lose the decision.

"We're tired of halfway efforts," said Byrne at the time.  "We're tired of doing things right some of the time.  We're tired of losing."

Apparently, the message didn't get through

The collapse

Once a team that could only beat bottom-feeders, the likes of Niagara, Peterborough, Sarnia and Belleville the sole source of their early-season wins, they started to fail to do that as well.

The 67's were blown out in Sarnia, they allowed three goals early in a loss to Belleville, and they started to crumble.  

Young blueliners Jonathan Duchesne and Troy Henley improved with more ice time and bigger roles, but they could only do so much.  Konecny was their best player some nights, a scary precedent to set on a 16-year old's shoulders.

Ottawa's makeshift second unit of Brendan Bell, Dante Salituro and Brett Gustavsen won them a couple of games, but they didn't always show up, and as soon as that line's scoring went dry, they were typically split up.

Trudeau carried the bulk of the weight and lead the league in saves by a wide margin, but that came at the expense of a lot of goals against as well.

As Niagara and even last-place Belleville piled up wins against much better squads, Ottawa kept losing.

They won only one of their last eight, many with opportunities to put the playoff race to bed, stumbling into the last weekend.

"We're in a dog fight, and it's a lot of fun fighting it out like this and trying to get wins here," added Byrne in the midst of the battle for eighth.

The final outcome was anything but fun for fans of the 67's.

A moot point now, they had an epic collapse in Kingston this past Friday, blowing a late 4-2 lead to register their second loss against the Fronts in a four-day span, a heartbreaker that pretty much sealed their fate.


North Bay delivered the knockout blow, but you could argue that this whole ordeal went through the Frontenacs.  

The 67's had the Frontenacs on the ropes on the third-last night of the season. They lost all eight decisions to a divisional rival that they dominated for years.  

In fact, Kingston had such an impact on the situation, they won their final game against Mississauga which was the only reason the Barberpoles even had a chance to back into the post-season, at least for one game.

But Ottawa sealed their own fate, in a league where only two teams per conference misses the playoffs, with a series of key, devastating losses to close out the year.  

The collapse was so colossal, even the Bulls passed them.

If there's a silver lining, the 67's got the third overall pick as a result of their fall through.  And now, they get to go back to the Civic Centre that they called home for so long

But they have their work cut out for them there.  The first step is to ice a competitive team, one that won't get swept in an eight-game series with a divisional rival like Kingston.

The next step is to avoid being like that same Kingston franchise, one that's now finally headed in the right direction, but one that went down a dreadful path for a decade when faced with the same scenario.

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