By Aedan Helmer, Ottawa Sun
The 67’s got back to a bad trend, dropping their home opener for the seventh time in eight seasons with a 6-4 defeat at the hands of the Barrie Colts Thursday night at Scotiabank Place.
Barrie took last year’s season series 3-1 over Ottawa, but it was the 67’s Game 7 overtime win over the Colts in last season’s playoffs — a second-round series Barrie had led 3-1 — that was likely still fresh in the minds of Colts veterans.
Barrie returnees exacted revenge the opener. Mark Scheifele, who gave the 67’s defence all it could handle, Anthony Camara, whose hat-trick goal stood up as the winner, and goaltender Mathias Niederberger, who shut the door when it counted most, stood out as the Colts scored two goals in the final minute to win.
“They have some good players, obviously,” said 67’s coach and GM Chris Byrne. “You score four goals, that should be enough goals (to win), but you can’t give up 4-on-2’s at the late stages of the game and give up wide-open looks, so I think we have to be better defensively as a team. Our guys played hard, it was a good, entertaining game, some goals at the end. We don’t like coming out on the losing end of that one, but there were a lot of great efforts, especially from guys who were playing their first real (OHL) game.”
The 67’s got big games out of their freshly-minted co-captains Cody Ceci and Sean Monahan, who combined for seven points and often drew the tough assignment of matching up against Scheifele.
But after a disciplined opening 40 minutes, a late parade to the penalty box ended up costing the 67’s, as rookie Dante Salituro and overager Michal Cajkovsky were handed back-to-back penalties in the third.
The Colts needed only a few seconds of the 1:37 two-man advantage to cash in.
But after Camara banged home a one-timer from the side of the net to give Barrie the third-period lead, the 67’s clawed back to even footing and looked to be on the verge of overtime when Remy Giftopoulos steamed through the Barrie defence and beat Niederberger with 1:22 remaining.
However, it was Camara and his hat-trick goal sticking the dagger in seconds later, and Scheifele giving it a twist with an empty-netter to seal it.
“It was a close game right down to the last minute and it could have gone either way. We battled back and we were about to force overtime, and the score didn’t show how close the game really was,” said Ceci, who had four assists.
“It’s tough for the younger guys to step in and play in front of a big crowd like that, it’s definitely a different atmosphere,” added the Senators’ first-round pick this year. “There were a lot of people that came out to the home opener, so it’s tough for a young guy to jump into that, and even for us older guys it’s a new challenge. But it’s no excuse, (Barrie) had to jump into the same scenario.”
Despite the loss, Ceci said he liked what he saw.
“It’s going to take a while for guys to fill the spots from last year, they’re tough shoes to fill, but I thought they did a good job,” said Ceci. “It was pretty much the same Barrie team from last year’s playoffs, and we had 10 new guys, so I think we played a strong game.
“Unfortunately they scored on that 5-on-3 and that put us in a bad position, but we battled back from that. But they scored a late one and that killed us.”
Camara opened the scoring 4:13 into the game, but after Erik Bradford put the 67’s in a 2-0 hole, the 67’s seemed to wake up.
Monahan showed all kinds of patience, lifting his shot over Matthias Niederberger just 19 seconds after Bradford’s goal.
With 19 seconds left in a highly entertaining opening period, Cajkovsky showed his hands can do more than brawl with a highlight-reel goal to send the teams into the intermission squared at 2-2.
With a glut of quality defencemen in camp, and Cajkovsky’s roster status still uncertain at the time, the overage import was used as a forward in scrimmages. It appears as if the extra homework paid off.
Cajkovsky surprised everyone on the ice and in the building, himself included, when he went low on the power play, stepped around a pair of Barrie defenders and slipped a low shot past a stunned Niederberger.
Cajkovsky scored three goals last season, and came into Thursday’s game with a career total of seven OHL goals.
Brendan Bell restored Barrie’s lead midway through the second, but Monahan drew even again, connecting with Ceci’s point shot minutes later.
But after killing off all four Barrie power plays they faced through 47 minutes, the 67’s lost their composure late, and the Colts made them pay.