By Scott Petersen
The faces in the lineup continue to change but the goals remain the same for the Ottawa 67’s.
Each year, the local Ontario Hockey League team undergoes a minor facelift to make the greatest use of its assets, and each year it remains a viable contender for the Memorial Cup.
Last season, the team tallied a 36-20-10-2 regular season record before falling 4-3 to the St. Michael’s Majors in the seventh game of the Eastern Conference semifinal.
The loss stopped the 67’s short of a second straight league title and a third trip to the Memorial Cup in four years.
This year the expectations are no different for the 67’s after they embarked on another off-season of changes.
The team watched as key overagers, captain Zenon Konopka, top-scoring defenceman Jon Zion and starting goaltender J.F. Perras, graduated from the OHL last season.
Forwards Adam Chapman, Brett McGrath and Lane Moodie are also gone from the team through summer trades.
But the team covered for those losses by adding a solid group of newcomers to each position. The additions of Matthew Foy, a 19-year-old winger who played U.S. college hockey last season, and Lukas Mensator, a quick-reflex goaltender from the Czech Republic, should reap the greatest rewards for the team.
A new group of rookies will compete for ice time and fill the remaining holes on defence and up front.
“You have to insert youth into a lineup or one year, you’re going to run into a brick wall trying to replace them,” says head coach Brian Kilrea.
“We’re trying to put the seven in now, so it’s less of an overhaul next year.”
“The guys we did lose were key, but we got some good players coming in,” says second-year centre Corey Locke. “I think we have a stronger squad than last year. It looks good on paper, so now we’ll see how it does in the regular season.”
Locke believes the addition of Foy in particular should help balance the pressure to score up front.
“He’s a hell of a hockey player,” says Locke. “Teams are really going to have to key on him.”
Locke is also one of the players the 67’s will count on for greater production this season. He finished last year as the team’s seventh leading scorer with 18 goals and 43 points in 55 games. He became an integral part of the team’s success as the season came to a close.
With that experience under his belt and a more prominent role on the team, Locke should see his production rise.
“He’ll be a main part of the offence,” says Kilrea. “He proved that last year and he’ll be even better for us this year. There’s no doubt that we look to him to be one of our leaders.”
“Locker’s just the kind of guy where the tougher the game gets, the more he steps it up,” says centre Scott Sheppard. “When you need a big play to change the course of a game, he will do it.”
The most interesting dilemma for Kilrea should be in goal, where the team’s backup for the past two seasons, John Ceci, and first-round import draft pick Mensator, will battle for starts in net.
But as Kilrea points out, having two strong goalies is a good dilemma to have.
“You have to have two goaltenders to win (in the OHL), and right now we feel comfortable with Mensator and Ceci,” he says. “I think they’ll both be given the opportunity to play and perform.”
“He’s unbelievably quick,” says Sheppard of Mensator, the team’s new goaltender.
“He gives you a hole, but the next thing you know, it’s closed. It’s almost like you have to shoot for a rebound because the first one is not going in. It’s going to be a tough decision for (Kilrea).”
Ceci, however, says he’s learned a lot as the backup goalie for the past two seasons and is ready to earn his ice time.
“Every year you come to training camp you want to take on a bigger role to be a bigger part of the team,” says Ceci.
“You always want to be the guy they go to in key games and situations.”
The 67’s play their home opener Oct. 4 against the Peterborough Petes, the team they eliminated in the first round of last year’s playoffs.
“It’s a great feeling,” says Ceci of playing in a home-opener, “especially here with all the introductions and 10,000 people in the stands. Not many people get to experience that and I feel lucky that I do.”
Sheppard says he was so excited over the summer from hearing about the new players heading to training camp that he was eager to get back.
“I knew we were going to have a good team,” he says. “From the back-end right through to the forward lines we should just be solid.”