67’s keep Ottawa’s Jacob Blair as backup goalie

By Aedan Helmer, Ottawa Sun

As the 67’s inch ever closer to an opening-day roster, some big decisions are still looming.

The first will come at a Wednesday news conference, where coach-GM Chris Byrne will name his captain for this year’s squad, with fan-favourite Cody Ceci, defensive leader Jake Cardwell and superstar-in-waiting Sean Monahan the frontrunners for the job. Tyler Graovac and Ryan Van Stralen are also being considered for leadership roles.

It appears as if Michal Cajkovsky will be manning his position on a crowded blueline, meaning Byrne will have to decide which one of Slovakian import forwards Ladislav Zikmund or Richard Mraz will be kept. Byrne was still working the phones Tuesday to see if a deal could be reached.

About the only position that is set on the 67’s roster is in goal, where Keegan Wilson, acquired in an off-season trade with Brampton, will be the starter, with 17-year-old Ottawa native Jacob Blair winning the backup role in camp.

Michael Nishi, last year’s backup, was released by the team and quickly signed with the Gatineau Olympiques, where he will be given the chance to start as an 18-year-old.

“I’m really excited,” said Blair, a sixth-round pick (119th overall) of the 67’s in 2011. “I came in hoping to make the team, but Nishi is a really good goalie and he gave me some really good competition. I was happy to see him find a place in Gatineau and get a starting job.”

Blair spent most of last season on the Jr. ‘B’ circuit with the Ottawa West Golden Knights, earning a late callup from the Gloucester Rangers.

He impressed the 67’s brass with his work ethic in camp, and was lights out in two exhibition games against the Olympiques, where he came in cold in the third period and turned heads each time with some game-saving stops.

“I was pretty excited to finally get some game time,” said Blair. “In Jr. ‘B’ you only get one or two practices a week, so it was great to get up here and get some regular practices, and when I got into a game I just wanted to make the most of the opportunity. The speed is so much quicker, and you really have to be ready because every single player on the ice is very good and they can score at any time, so you can’t take any time off.”

Before he was drafted, Blair already had a working relationship with 67’s goaltending coach Tom Dempsey, who has liked what he’s seen from the youngster so far.

“He was very consistent in camp, and he’s a big boy (at 6-foot-2) and I think we wanted to go with an older goalie (Wilson) and a younger guy (Blair) with an eye to next year,” said Dempsey. “I was very, very impressed by Blair in our exhibition games. He went in and shut the door, he made a lot of high quality saves and we were very impressed with that.

“He finds a way to stop the puck. He’s got quick hands, quick feet, good with his stick, and the saves he makes with his body usually stay there. He’s a young guy, so we’ll have to spot him through the season, but we’ll find games for him, for sure.”

Roster watch: With Cajkovsky coming back, defenceman Ryan Shipley has gone back to his London-area home to await a trade. Byrne said with it was simply an issue of ice time with nine defencemen still on the roster, including returnees Ceci, Cardwell, Cajkovsky, Sean Callaghan and Mike Vlajkov, and the emergence of free agent Matthieu Desautels and rookies Jonathan Duchesne and Nevin Guy. Shipley, whose older brother Steven plays for Niagara, was limited to 23 games last season after playing in 55 games in his rookie campaign.

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