NHL lockout hits Ottawa 67’s

By Aedan Helmer, Ottawa Sun

The NHL lockout is having a somewhat unexpected ripple effect on the 67’s plans for this coming season.

The work stoppage will certainly be a boon for attendance — average attendance was 9,236 fans per game during the “lost season” of 2004-05, tops in the OHL and nearly double last year’s fourth-ranked average of 5,445 — and Scotiabank Place will have a good reason to keep the lights on with the 67’s suddenly the prime tenant.

But the real impact of the NHL lockout on the junior circuit could perhaps be illustrated best by the quandary the 67’s find themselves in with Slovakian defenceman Michal Cajkovsky.

Since Cajkovsky reported to the club for camp, the 67’s have been operating with three imports, one more than is allowed under OHL rules.

The league did tweak rules to allow teams to keep European players taken in the first round of the NHL draft without counting against the import limit.

But since Cajkovsky, who is an undrafted 20-year-old, also takes up one of three available overage spots, trading partners are increasingly scarce.

“We’ve been looking around and calling and doing our homework on what is out there, and I think this year there are a number of overagers (still in the OHL) due to the NHL stuff that’s going on,” said 67’s coach/GM Chris Byrne.

With no NHL training camps, fewer prospects will get the chance to prove their mettle and catch the eye of executives, so instead of potentially earning a big-league tryout, top prospects are sent back to junior.

Case in point: Mark Scheifele’s assignment to the Barrie Colts Saturday, after the star forward debuted in the NHL with the Winnipeg Jets last season as an 18-year-old.

Then, there is the abundance of imports, as eligible European players are weighing their options between playing in the OHL, one of the world’s top developmental leagues, and being relegated to the European junior circuit with the anticipated influx of NHLers filling up pro rosters.

Which is exactly what brought Cajkovsky back across the pond in the first place.

Cajkovsky was angling for a one-way contract in the KHL, but with the Russian league keeping seats warm for NHL talent, a two-way contract was all that was offered.

And if Cajkovsky was going to play junior, “he thought it may as well be here,” said Byrne.

“With the looming lockout, there are maybe less jobs in Europe as well,” said Byrne. “There may or may not be something out there as far as Mike is concerned, but we’re still up in the air as far as what we’re doing with our imports.”

That’s not the only thing left “up in the air” this Sunday morning.

Preseason ends with Brockville bash

The 67’s, meanwhile, get back to business closing out the exhibition season by taking their travelling road show to Brockville Sunday for their final tuneup before the real show gets under way Thursday.

Ottawa is the “home” team, but it may not feel much like it facing off against the Kingston Frontenacs, now helmed by former Brockville Braves coach and hometown hero Todd Gill.

“He and (Kingston GM) Doug Gilmour have done a good job of rebuilding the team, and obviously they had a tough year last year in terms of wins and losses, but I think they have some good young players there and they’ll be good for years to come. They worked hard and their goaltender was very good, so they came to our rink a few times and surprised our guys,” said Byrne.

“It is our home game and we promoted it, so I imagine our fans will be there along with the Kingston fans. It’s a great spot to have an exhibition game between the two teams, in a town that’s geographically halfway between one (OHL town) and the other.”

C Sean Monahan and D Cajkovsky will make their preseason debut, while veterans Remy Giftopoulos and Cody Ceci will sit out.

Keegan Wilson gets the nod in net.

“We’re where we want to be at this point and hopefully that will continue into next week’s home opener,” said Byrne, as the team prepares to open the regular season against Scheifele and his Barrie Colts.

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