Revamped 67’s Keep Up With Arms Race

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Revamped 67’s keep up with arms race

Life competing among the Ontario Hockey League elite is a lot like "keeping up with the Joneses."

You know the drill. One neighbour buys a BMW and the other goes out and gets a Porsche. One sends their kids to Cornell. The other one-ups and sends theirs to Yale.

In the OHL, one contender adds a 30-goal scorer and the next needs a shutdown defenceman. The competition never ends and a more common thread is that it often means living beyond your means.

In the OHL’s Eastern Conference alone, as good as the first-place Ottawa 67’s felt about their trade-deadline acquisitions, lo and behold the 67’s rivals were also loading up for the stretch drive. Never mind what was happening in the Western Conference in Windsor, London and Sarnia. That’s a whole different league over there where price has no logic.

Back in the East, home of the league’s poor cousins, as the 67’s were bulking up with former No. 1 overall pick John McFarland and playmaking overage centre Mike Cazzola, the Niagara IceDogs, Barrie Colts, Brampton Battalion, and even the ninth-place Oshawa Generals, didn’t blink and with just 15 points separating first place through ninth, there’s nothing to take for granted.

Niagara added Team Canada junior Jamie Oleksiak in what amounted to an eightfor-two trade including draft picks. The IceDogs now have five members of the team that won the bronze medal at the world junior hockey championships.

Barrie added toughness up front and depth on the blueline. Brampton fine-turned their roster and under-achieving Oshawa also upgraded.

Given the flux in the rosters, the big question is if the 67’s did enough, an answer that won’t be known until spring.

"Niagara had more to give up," said 67’s veteran Tyler Toffoli, who with 90 goals in his past 105 regular season games is qualified to speak. "But from what we had to give, to add two top six guys, I think that has everyone real-ly excited.

"The last three years, we’ve had a good team here and haven’t done anything (in the playoffs). Next year, this team will lose six top end guys (to graduation).

"For all us older guys, this is our last chance. For the ones who have been here four years, that fourth year was supposed to be the year. I’m glad to be part of it."

There’s nothing like the arrival of a couple of top-flight newcomers to rejuvenate the rest of the roster in the dog days of January.

Practices this week at the Civic Centre had some early-season jump to them and one-on-one drills had everyone’s attention.

McFarland, a pure skater, can turn on a dime just as easily as he can turn heads with some of his moves. He was the undisputed best 15-yearold in the province four years ago. What’s to say he can’t top off a respectable junior career with a fantastic finish?

The 67’s came into the season thinking conference title, league title and trip to the Memorial Cup. Nothing has changed.

Even a multitude of injuries in the first half hasn’t stopped the 67’s from holding on to top spot in their division, and more importantly, the conference.

The first half hasn’t always been fun. The 67’s are just 5-7 in November.

None-the-less, the 67’s are where they are. There are lots of positives and the team has yet to get on a roll. Their longest winning streak is four games.

Now winning a league title is never as easy as bringing in a couple of star players and sitting down at a meeting to decide this is the year.

Chris Byrne, the rookie general manager but third-year head coach, told his charges it’s always the best team that wins. That means the group of players playing best together, not the best team on paper.

Byrne was able to add to his present-day roster by subtracting only struggling former No. 1 pick David Perklin.

The 67’s still have every one of their own draft picks for the 2012 draft, a draft perceived as very strong and deep. In 2013, the 67’s are missing only their third-round choice.

"I believe we have given ourselves a chance," said Byrne. "But I am trying to manage the team and make moves that also make sense down the line. We knew who was out there but you have to have the right assets to do something."

Everyone knows the real season begins the third week in March. And there’s some intangibles the 67’s will need for the playoff run.

Up front, the big guns are going to score.

Just as valuable will be the physical play of Dalton Smith, now back to his 2010-11 form, and rookie Ryan Van Stralen, along with the unselfishness of No. 3 centre Tyler Graovac. The wild card would be rugged winger Steven Janes returning to full strength.

Cody Ceci, while only 18, anchors the blue-line, but the recent emergence of rookies Mike Vlajkov and Sean Callaghan has given the team a legitimate big six with Marc Zanetti, Jake Cardwell and Michael Cajkovsky.

And in goal, Petr Mrazek, who stole the show at the world junior tournament, must steal the show again here and get back to his level of play of one year ago. Mrazek has been solid, but not great. This time last year, the number of wins Mrazek had single-handedly stolen was in double figures. Not so this year.

Captain Zanetti is currently halfway through his fourth full season with part of a fifth as a 16-year-old, and his playoff total of games-played numbers just 23, the same as Toffoli.

"It was no secret we needed help on the second and third lines," said Zanetti. "Our first might be the best in the league. But this takes pressure off them.

"The hardest part of our season is done. I hope the bad luck (injuries) are too. It’s time to step up."



Sarnia: Are goalie J.P. Anderson and forwards Ryan Spooner, Brett Ritchie and Tyler Brown enough?

Niagara: Towering D Jamie Oleksiak gives Dogs 5 Team Canada members.

London: No. 2 team in country adds Leaf prospect Greg McKegg, 233 career points.

Brampton: Derek Froats adds to already solid lineup.

Barrie: Defenceman Ryan O’Connor, a former No. 1, back to where he started.

Ottawa: McFarland and Cazzola give 67’s top 6 forwards.

Kingston: Have positioned themselves to go forward in 2012-13.


Belleville: Jordan Mayer and Joseph Cramarossa boost offence.

Oshawa: Add three defencemen, two from defending champ Owen Sound.

Plymouth: Second-best team in league stood pat.

Kitchener: Tried for Austen Watson, then sat out deadline flurry.

Don Campbell

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