67’s powering through undermanned lull in preseason schedule
The Ottawa 67’s are nearly a week into their break from preseason action, with their next game not coming until September 23rd, but they haven’t been kicking their feet up on a sunny beach.
In game action thus far, the Barber Poles have played to a 2-1 record, winning their road matchups with the Kingston Frontenacs and North Bay Battalion, while nearly mounting a last-minute comeback in the home leg against the Troops.
The rotating roster has put some guys in situations they are unfamiliar with. At times, it has been a little rough around the edges, as you would expect, but largely, there are many reasons to be happy.
“The team has done really well so far, and the new guys have blended in with our group,” said 67’s forward Will Gerrior. “I think we’re going to be a tight group again this year.”
This week, things have been a little bit different at The Arena at TD Place. Eight players expected to be on the roster come the home opener have made the trip to their respective NHL team’s training camp, leaving the practice ice for the Barber Poles rather bare.
Missing bodies is one thing, but the voices and leadership that come from NHL-drafted players on a junior hockey team are critical. In so many ways, things feel different, but the reality is that on the ice, practice is still just as intense and competitive as ever.
“Our guys are doing a great job at competing and battling,” Milley said. “With guys away at NHL camps, it can be hard for coaches to push the pace at practice, and we have to turn to the returning guys. They have done a great job.”
“They make the job easier by knowing it’s their team. Dave, Paul [Stoykewych], and myself, we’re there to help steer them the right way, but ultimately, it’s on the players. I can’t say enough about the returning guys.”
Gerrior, who is a part of that returning group, says that the foundation has been laid by those before him, and it’s natural to keep things going.
“We have core values, so even when the NHL guys aren’t here, we can stick to it,” he explained. “We’re working hard. With guys gone, there hasn’t been much change.”
Even without those big names, the importance of practice can’t be understated. It’s times like this when the young players can be brought up to speed, learning the intricate system.
“It’s about working on the details of the systems, so when our guys get back from NHL camps, there’s no hesitation,” Milley said. “We’ll get right into things and start rolling. It’s also a good opportunity to work on skills, as well. We’ve got a combination right now, because we don’t want to be a step behind when guys get back, because it’s a short turnaround until we play again.”
In the handful of chances on the ice thus far, Milley is happy with what he has seen out of the 67’s youth.
“These are players that want to be better, they want to compete every day,” he said. “They’re also a good group of guys off the ice. They seem to care for each other, and they are gelling really quickly. This time alone for the young guys is a great chance for them to grow together, because this is going to be our core for the next two or three years.”
Pushing forward, this group is locked in, looking to right the wrongs they feel were committed mere months ago.
“There’s a lot of excitement,” Gerrior said. “Coming off the year we had last season, we didn’t end where we wanted to. We want to pick up right where we left off, and make another big push this year.”