Winning is contagious.
At least, that’s what the Ottawa 67’s have come to discover as they look to skate to their 17th straight win this weekend, against none other than their playoff nemesis the Guelph Storm.
Through the first 35 games of the season, the 67’s boast a 29-6-0-0 record, a tally that places them atop not only OHL, but the Canadian Hockey League standings.
Unquestionably, the Barber Poles have been a really tough team to play against.
They’re tough on opponents. They’re good in the defensive zone. They’re all over the puck and they’re hard in their battles. Most of the time, their game play takes over.
READ 📰: https://t.co/WfSsaAuwLJ pic.twitter.com/K5cGsjrIm9
— CanadianHockeyLeague (@CHLHockey) January 9, 2020
So much so that their 16-game win streak has set a new franchise record.
Ottawa sophomore Jack Quinn hasn’t taken the prestigious accolade for granted, especially in the midst of his NHL Draft year.
“It’s an honour because there have been so many great teams before us,” said Quinn. “It’s an honour to know you’re up there in that conversation.”
Winning means a lot of things. It means showing up to the rink before 7:30am with a smile. It means an energy in the room that goes unmatched. It means confidence that continues to boost as the wins roll on.
But, it also means looking for the important lessons that may not be so obvious.
For overager Joseph Garreffa, for example, it means not getting complacent.
“When things go well, it’s easy to get a little lackadaisical, to enjoy yourself too much, and to get too much of that swagger,” said Garreffa. “You have to get better every day and never be happy where you are.”
For highly touted NHL Draft prospect Marco Rossi, it means remembering to save some of that energy for the postseason, where those win streaks really count.
“We’re really proud, but the most important thing is that we keep learning and getting better because wins aren’t as important right now,” said Rossi. “They’re important in the playoffs. Right now, it’s important that we get better every day and that we are ready for the playoffs.”
For Quinn, it means knowing where to take the bad with the good.
“We haven’t been starting games well. We’ve kind of been easing our way into it, and taking over in the second half of the game,” he explained. “When we get to a big game, we need a big start, so we’re trying to fix that now.”
And for Ottawa netminder Cedrick Andree, it means finding ways to constantly stay prepared and engaged.
“Even where you’re winning, there are still things you have to look at,” said Andree.
“Being a top team in the league means some games I won’t get as many shots as other games. When we play some of the teams that aren’t as strong, I might have six minutes in between shots, and it’s tough to find a way to be always engaged,” he said.
A new benchmark for one of the #OHL’s most decorated franchises.
The @Ottawa67sHockey made a new entry in their record book following a 15th straight win on Thursday.
READ 📰: https://t.co/Qqsz8aaXv2 pic.twitter.com/qLfllrYUSG
— OntarioHockeyLeague (@OHLHockey) January 3, 2020
So, what’s been clicking?
First of all, there’s a system.
“Even when we’re not playing our best, our system is so good and our defence is getting so good that it gives the other teams problems,” said Garreffa, who was traded to the club earlier this season from the Kitchener Rangers, where he spent his last four seasons.
“I always remember when we would play Ottawa, even when they weren’t the best team in the league, I remembered the way they skate, that they’re tough, and that they’re tough on you,” he said.
“I haven’t really played in a system like this before. I was more of a run and gun guy before, skating up and down the ice. It’s a hard system to play against.”
The key to that system? Attention to detail and defence.
“On other junior teams, you’re going to kind of scat, always try to get the puck, always try to play offence, and then whatever happens on defence, happens,” continued Garreffa.
“Here, they really get on you to play defence.”
According to assistant coach Mario Duhamel, honing in on defensive play has been an essential component to Ottawa’s success.
“It’s really crucial that everyone engages defensively,” he said. “Obviously we have a good offence too, but everything goes by our defence, system-wise. We want to play well offensively, and we know if we’re playing well defensively, and focus on exact details, that offense will come.”
Offense appears to be no issue in the capital city. The team bolsters point producers. Rossi sits first among all OHL skaters with 26 goals and 43 assists for 69 points under his belt. Fifth year OHL veterans Austen Keating and Garreffa have made way as leading scorers among the league’s top players. Garreffa owns the league’s longest current point streak of 18 games in which he’s amassed 41 points, and Rossi isn’t far behind with a 17-game streak that has accumulated 43 points.
On the back end, Andree boasts the league’s second-best .921 save percentage and a 2.27 goals against average. Overaged D-man Noel Hoefenmayer has put up an impressive 50 points himself, and big defender Kevin Bahl returns to the lineup with a World Junior gold medal around his chest.
It’s a solid lineup, but success doesn’t go far without good coaching, Quinn pointed out.
“Our success is a credit to our coaching staff, whether it’s Andre or Mario. They both know how to get the best out of us,” he said.
Andre Tourigny has been head coach since the 2017-2018 season. He recently stood behind Team Canada’s bench as an assistant on Dale Hunter’s coaching staff as they skated to a World Junior gold medal in the Czech Republic over the holidays. Duhamel, who joined the club prior to the 2017-2018 season, took over those head coaching duties in Tourigny’s absence.
The team didn’t miss a beat.
All in all, a pretty phenomenal day for the Barber Poles 💈👏 pic.twitter.com/CLvZzthV1y
— OntarioHockeyLeague (@OHLHockey) January 3, 2020
“I also think a lot of our success is about the way the guys are skating on the puck,” Garreffa added. “They win the battles. That’s a big thing, and it’s really opened my eyes. It’s a lot of hard work, but it’s hard to play against.”
Going hand in hand with that effective system is effective team chemistry. Simply said, it’s been good.
It’s something Ottawa netminder Cedrick Andree credits to team management. They seem to have a knack for scoping out players who have consistently been a good fit.
“It helps when you’re winning but a lot of it has to do with the guys we pick in the draft,” he said.
“We pick guys who have a lot of personality before guys who are just straight skill, and it’s working out in the standings.”
Duhamel, on the other hand, gives the credit to leaders on the team, like Keating, Hoefenmayer, and Garreffa.
“The chemistry on the team is good,” he said. “It goes with our leadership, who are taking care of everyone on the team. They make sure everyone feels good and is included. That’s a huge difference for us. Even if you’re first year or fourth year, everyone is important. Everyone has their spot and everyone has their voice. That’s what we preach.”
And while winning may not account entirely for the team chemistry the Barber Pole players have exuded through the first half of the season, it certainly helps.
“It’s fun, winning,” said Garreffa. “We have that confidence and believe we’re going to win. It’s an energy I haven’t really felt before.”
Last year’s tough loss to the Storm in the finals is something the returning players can vouch for with regards to this year’s tight chemistry and hunger for victory.
“It was really tough for us as a team, but that made the chemistry way stronger because we know how much we have to work and what we have to do to compete again,” said Rossi.
“You can see the hunger from the returning players and it rubs off on the younger guys and the guys who got traded like me,” Garreffa said. “We see how much these guys want it and how hard they work and it gives you an extra boost to work even harder. On game days, you can feel the confidence the guys have, and I’m honestly just enjoying my last year in juniors, so it’s great to be a part of.”
— Ottawa 67’s (@Ottawa67sHockey) January 5, 2020
The 67’s rounded out the 2018-2019 season in first place. In the postseason, they skated past their opponents with 14 consecutive wins until they met the best of the West in the Storm, who toppled over them with four straight defeats in six games, scooping up the Robertson Cup.
This year, the team appears back in perfect position to finish the job.
But while first place in the CHL standings is no effortless feat, and a record-setting streak of 16 straight games in the win column doesn’t go unnoticed, for returning players like Rossi, it’s looking less at stats and more ahead at what’s at stake that means most.
“It’s good that we won 16 in a row but that is not where we are focusing on,” he stated. “I want to win the OHL.”
And for seasoned skaters like Garreffa, it’d be nice to top off a five year stretch as the OHL’s best.
“It’s my last year in the league and I want to win a championship. That’s my big focus,” he said. “Obviously stats matter, but it’s my last kick at the can so I’m going to give it my all and I know all the guys on this team really want to do it. I think we have a good chance here.
So while maintaining that hot streak is nice, the main goal is simple. It all comes down to claiming what was within reach last year: an OHL championship and a trip to the Memorial Cup.
“It’s not often that you get two runs at a championship in this league, so we’re going to make the most of it this year,” said Andree.
“We have a team that is good enough to make another run for it, and we’re all just really excited and hopeful that this time we come out on top.”