An astonishingly dominant playoff run by the Ottawa 67’s came to an end on Sunday, May 12 after an 8-3 loss to the Guelph Storm in Game 6 of the OHL Finals. The Storm advanced to compete for the CHL Memorial Cup against the Prince Albert Raiders, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, and Halifax Mooseheads.
Coming into the final round, the 67’s were buoyed by the incredible high of three straight sweeps of their previous playoffs opponents: the Hamilton Bulldogs, the Sudbury Wolves, and the Oshawa Generals.
But the buzz was growing around this year’s 67’s team even before their impressive playoff display. They finished the regular season at the top of the league with 106 points, thanks to a roster boasting the promising talents of goalie Michael DiPietro, who backed Canada’s 2019 World Juniors team; as well as Tye Felhaber, whose 59 regular season goals ranked second-most in the OHL; and the young, gifted puck battler Marco Rossi, who is already surrounded by the hype of speculation he could be a top ten pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.
The Storm’s playoff road to the finals couldn’t have been a sharper contrast to the 67’s. Captained by Isaac Ratcliffe, the team built a daunting reputation for their comeback abilities, managing to win their way out of 3-0 and 3-1 deficits in their second and third rounds respectively. The 67’s may have entered the OHL finals as champions with a glossy, undefeated record, but the Storm were a pack of battlescarred underdogs who’d proven it was never safe to count them dead.
The final round began promisingly for the 67’s with two victories at home, giving them a playoff record of 14-0 and setting a new OHL record for the longest playoff win streak. But the wins came with some wounds. DiPietro was injured in the first period of Game 2 and was never able to return to the series, leaving back-up goaltender Cedrick Andree to take his place and secure their second win.
As they’d done after every playoff win, the team continued to unveil a series of red and black X’s along the boards of their Lansdowne rink, counting each step to the sixteen wins required to secure the championship. When they headed to Guelph for Game 3 the trophy was only two X’s away, but unfortunately their perfect record was about to come to an abrupt end.
If any team was going to dethrone the unbeaten 67’s, it seems fitting that it would be the proven comeback kids. Rallying after their initial losses as they’d grown accustomed to in previous rounds, the Storm put up a 7-2 win in Game 3 and grabbed the next two games with one-goal leads before finally stomping out the 67’s Memorial Cup hopes in Game 6. Ottawa’s Noel Hoefenmayer and Kevin Bahl scored the first two goals of the game, but after Guelph responded with five unanswered goals in the second period, the 67’s were never able to get the lead back.
It might be tough to swallow such a loss after coming so close to the championship and tasting nothing but victory for such a long stretch, but it shouldn’t take away from what was truly monumental about this Ottawa 67’s team’s playoff season – not just the wins and the new records, but the hockey fervour they brought back to a city going through a severe drought.
Local hockey fans enthusiastically embraced the chance to cheer on this unstoppable 67’s team after a year in which the Ottawa Senators not only finished last in the NHL, but also seemed unable to escape an incessant spiral of controversies, from legal battles over the development of a new arena to secretly recorded Uber videos, the departure of the team’s biggest stars at the trade deadline, and the firing of head coach Guy Boucher. On top of it all, there was the constant looming reminder that no matter how low the team sunk, their first round draft pick had been traded away, the light already extinguished at the end of a very long and dark tunnel.
It may have been a tough year to be a Senators fan, but the 67’s ensured it was still a great time to watch hockey in Ottawa.
“The city and greater hockey community took notice of the team’s performance (this year), something that has not happened in a long time,” said Martin Prouse, who has followed the 67’s since moving to Ottawa in 2005 and became especially familiar with the ups and downs of fan enthusiasm after working as the team mascot from 2014-16. Prouse currently works as a season seat account manager for the Ottawa Senators Hockey Club.
“It’s good hockey… Every game was really awesome, every game.”
“Giving fans a team that wins has brought back many casual fans who were missing from (the) team’s supporters in years prior,” he added.
It brought the 67’s some new fans too. Adam Pinsoneault said that he and his father, Ottawa residents and longtime Montreal Canadiens fans, had a great time attending three playoffs games this season and finally getting to cheer for an Ottawa team.
“It’s not as expensive (as NHL games) and it’s good hockey,” Pinsoneault said. “Every game was really awesome, every game.”
Personal trainer Shaun Kehoe has been a fan of the 67’s since he was a kid going to their Friday night games, but the talents of this year’s roster had him more excited about the team than he’d been in a long time. After seeing how good they were in a regular season game, he was hooked.
“It was like all the energy was put into the 67’s.”
“The Sens had a terrible year, and I’m not going to lie, that added to my enthusiasm for the 67’s,” Kehoe said. “I didn’t make it to any of the playoff games unfortunately because I was always working on home game nights, but I watched them when I got home and even went old school this past Sunday and listened to the game on the radio.”
Pinsoneault said he noticed a lot more excitement for the 67’s this year than he’d ever seen before, and he thought it came from the same source. “The Ottawa Senators weren’t really doing so well, so everyone kind of moved towards this (team). It was like all the energy was put into the 67’s.”
And that energy carried them all the way to Game 6 of the OHL Finals.
Fans may have wanted to see these boys take it even further, but they’re also grateful for the wild success they got to enjoy along the way.
“I’m disappointed about them losing,” Kehoe said, “but Guelph is an amazing team, and I am very proud of the 67’s this season.”