By Aedan Helmer, Ottawa Sun
Ryan Van Stralen already owns a piece of history as the owner of the first goal ever scored at the sparkling new 1,500-seat Smiths Falls Memorial Centre.
The former Smiths Falls Bear gave the standing room-only crowd plenty to cheer about Friday, breaking a 4-4 deadlock with eight minutes left in the 67’s exhibition opener vs. their cross-river rival Gatineau Olympiques as the teams took their show on the road.
Once the pre-game pageantry was out of the way and the teams found their skating legs, the hockey came as advertised — fast, furious and feisty — with players on both sides looking to make an early impression.
Van Stralen was the man of the hour, though, parking himself in front of Olympiques goaltender Eric Brassard and deflecting a power-play point shot from Mike Vlajkov for the 67’s third man-advantage marker of the game.
“The fans were just like I thought they’d be, really loud and energetic, and it was a pretty emotional game,” said Van Stralen, a native of Prescott. “We were battling and it came right down to the wire there and I was fortunate to pop in (the winner). It’s pretty meaningful for me.
“It brings back a lot of memories. The fans here are pretty passionate and they love the game. They were on our side right from the opening puck drop.”
Teams were still feeling each other out in the scoreless opening period, but there was no shortage of fireworks and both teams indulged in the rough stuff.
Brett Gustavsen took a hard ride into the boards from Gatineau’s Gabriel Bourret, who finished his check with a two-handed slash that went uncalled five minutes into the first.
Gustavsen had to be helped off the ice and missed the remainder of the period, but returned in the second where he made an impression of his own.
After Tyler Graovac opened the scoring with a power-play goal 1:19 into the period, Gustavsen’s rising snap shot past Brassard kicked off a scoring flurry that saw five goals scored in as many minutes in a seven-goal second-period outburst.
Gustavsen gave the 67’s a three-goal cushion with a short-handed goal at 9:04, but it only took 40 seconds for Gatineau’s Taylor Burke to respond on the same power play.
Remy Giftopoulos jammed home an unassisted marker just 16 seconds later to restore the cushion.
Samuel Courtemanche, Bourret and rookie Kameron Kielly also scored for Gatineau.
Goaltender Keegan Wilson was impressive in his 67’s debut, especially in the first period where he turned aside everything he saw as Gatineau outshot the 67’s 18-7. Gatineau held a 38-30 advantage on the shot clock through the game.
“If he doesn’t play really well in the first, it’s a different outcome,” said Ottawa coach and GM Chris Byrne. “I thought for some of the guys who were playing their first OHL game tonight, they weren’t shelled but they were looking around and wondering what was going on, but I thought as the game wore on, they played hard, and it was nice to see those guys step up in the second and third period and play well.”
NOTES: Gatineau mayor Marc Bureau and Smiths Falls mayor Dennis Staples presided over the game’s opening ceremonies, with original 67’s goaltender Gary Doyle dropping the puck for the ceremonial faceoff. Doyle played 101 OHL games for the Barberpoles, starting 50-of-54 games in the inaugural season … Still in the evaluation stages, the 67’s elected to scratch most of their key veterans, including Sean Monahan, Cody Ceci, Jake Cardwell and Michal Cajkovsky. Rookie Taylor Davis was also scratched … There was plenty to like from the 67’s 2012 draft class. Forwards Andrew Abou-Assaly and Dante Salituro picked up an assist each playing together on the fourth line in their unofficial OHL debut, and rookie defencemen Jonathan Duchesne and Nevin Guy formed an effective pairing on the back end … Before netting the winner, former Smiths Falls Bear Van Stralen gave the home crowd plenty to cheer about in the third period, flattening Olympiques’ Slovakian import Martin Reway with a clean, hard check … Jacob Blair, who’s locked in a duel with Michale Nishi for the 67’s backup goaltending duties, looked good taking over in the third for Wilson … Former 67 and current Ottawa Senators hopeful Shane Prince was spotted in the building.