October 07, 2014

Despite slow start here are 6 things to look forward to in the 67's upcoming season

With the home opener around the corner, the Ottawa 67's find themselves winless in 4 games and their worst start since before the Ontario Hockey League started keeping track of stats online in 1997. A position no team wants to be in, the Niagara IceDogs is the only other OHL team without a win so far this season.

The 67's are averaging 5.5 goals allowed per game and have been outscored 22-6 through the first 4 games. Despite being badly outscored, it’s not just one area that the 67’s need to work on. So far only 11 of 21 skaters (those who have dressed for a game) have reached the scoresheet.

A losing squad is something that 67's fans have not been used to. The mindset had always been to reload and not to rebuild. Before the last two seasons, the 67's only missed the playoffs 4 times since they entered the league in the 1967-68 season. Last season marked the first time they missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons.

While the 67's only have 7 new players on the roster, there are a lot of other changes they've had to take on this season including a new general manager, a new head coach, and ultimately, a new system.

It is still early on in the season and much can change over the course of the next 64 games. The team and the fans still have a lot of things to look forward this season.

#1 New Coaching Staff

The beginning of the off-season kicked off with Chris Byrne stepping down from the Head Coach position to focus more on his General Manager duties. An interview process with several prospects ended with the 67’s hiring 13-year NHL veteran and Ottawa-native, Jeff Brown, as Head Coach.

Brown served as the GM and Head Coach of the USHL’s Indiana Ice for the last two seasons. Brown comes in with experience in coaching young players along with experience in coaching a winner; his Indiana Ice won the USHL league title last season.

The full differences between Byrne and Brown are yet to be fully seen. It appeared that Byrne tried to play a tighter defensive game when he may not have had the right players to play that system. It has been noted that Brown follows a similar up-tempo hockey approach of former bench boss, Brian Kilrea.  “I’m not a (neutral zone) trap guy, at all,” he told the Ottawa Citizen when he was officially hired. Brown will allow the offensive players to have more freedom and to take more risks.

A new approach, a new direction, and a fresh perspective are all positives for this team moving ahead.

#2 New Management

A couple weeks after stepping down as Head Coach, Chris Byrne stepped down as General Manager. He was hired on as a scout with the Los Angeles Kings in the NHL. His departure promoted long-serving hockey operations staff, Pat Higgins, to the General Manager role. Higgins was a natural fit after spending several years as a scout, head of scouting and assistant GM to the 67’s. His knowledge of the team, of the game, and of the league will be a great asset to the 67’s going forward and should leave fans feeling optimistic.

#3 Draft Picks

The 67’s will have 3 of their top 5 draft picks in this year’s OHL Priority Selection and their top selection in the CHL Import Draft on the team’s roster this season. This includes power forward Travis Barron, loophole European goaltender Leo Lazarev, Kemptville native Nathan Todd and dynamic import pick Artur Tyanulin.

Travis Barron was Ottawa’s first selection (third overall) in the OHL draft. He captained the Toronto Jr. Canadians to the championship title last season.

"He plays the game like a pro already. Barron brings a healthy combination of skill and grit to his game. Off the ice he's a real gentleman, but when he puts his equipment on he is a real hard guy to play against," Pat Higgins told the Ottawa Sun after the OHL Draft.

Leo Lazarev has a commitment to the league like none other. His family moved to Ontario two years ago so he could have the opportunity play in the OHL. You could call this a loophole in the OHL’s initiative to ban European goaltenders to allow more North Americans the opportunity.

"He is so quick. When we watched him I said to Chris [Byrne], 'I think he's kicking rebounds out so he can make another save.' This kid is quirky but he might be the most athletic. He tracks pucks like crazy. He is so focused,” Pat Higgins told Yahoo! Sports following the draft.

Artur Tyanulin was the 7th overall pick in the CHL Import draft. He was a point a player game with his former club and was arguably Russia’s best player in the U17 tournament last year accumulating 12 points in 5 games.

“Artur is an extremely dynamic player with great puck skills and explosive skating power,” Pat Higgins told Ottawa67s.com.

#4 Off-season Acquisitions

The 67’s were busy in the off-season with movement on the management side and the player side adding two new players who will become regulars in the lineup. The 67’s parted ways with Connor Brown and a draft pick to aquire Jeremiah Addison. Addison joins the team after spending two seasons with the Saginaw Spirit. Addision was Saginaw’s first round selection in the 2012 OHL Priority Selection.  He is described as “a skilled wing with a strong skating style who is good one-on-one when carrying, and finds soft areas when he doesn't have it. Good release. Good forechecker with good physicality.”

The 67’s also added Zack Pittman to their roster. Pittman was selected by Ottawa in the 2012 OHL Priority Selection but elected to go the NCAA route. He discovered that the NCAA wasn’t right for him and forfeited the rest of the NCAA eligibility to suit up with the 67’s. Pittman is a stay-at-home defenseman with a big body and a bit of a mean streak. Something the 67’s blueline is in much need of.

#5 Potential breakout seasons

Travis Konecny: Konecny had a great rookie season accumulating 26 goals and 70 points earning him OHL rookie of the year honours. He followed that up by captaining Canada’s U18 team that went on to win the gold medal in the Ivan Hlinka tournament. Konecny will have a supporting cast with more experience and is expected to lead the team in scoring again. Konecny is entering his draft year and will be fired up more than ever to reach his Top-5 NHL draft potential this season. The best is yet to come.

Dante Salituro: Another NHL draft eligible this season. He improved over the course of last season showing many flashes of brilliance.  He will continue to improve with a couple years under his belt and will be looked to be a leader on the team.

Troy Henley: He just cracked the recent NHL Central Scouting’s “Players to Watch” list. Henley is a hard-working and hard-hitting defenseman that won’t shy away from rough play. His confidence continued to grow last season and can only go up from here. He will be looked too often on a 67’s blueline that has struggled a lot in the past few seasons.

#6 New building

Several season ticket holders took the last two seasons off because it was inconvenient to travel to Kanata for games. Attendance also went down because those fans that would go to 3-5 games a season went once or didn’t go at all for the same reasons.

If you speak to some of the players and staff, they will tell you that Scotiabank Place never felt like home. There is a sense of excitement around the organization that can only feed into opening night.

If you build it, they will come. While the arena has not had any major upgrades, many people will attend games for the simple fact that Lansdowne has been upgraded and TD Place is new. More fans usually mean a livelier and a better atmosphere.

So, while the 67’s are off to a not-so-great start, there are many things to look forward to. Friday marks the start of a new era for the 67’s in Ottawa and a game you will not want to miss.

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