By: Tyler Rabb – Ottawa67s.com Staff
Photo: Robert Lefebvre – IceLevel Photography
It all began a little over 14 years ago.
The Ottawa 67’s were stuck in rut with less than a month to go in the 2000/01 OHL season. Team morale was low after suffering some embarrassing losses. They were hard-pressed to even make the post season, but as you now know, that historic 67’s team went on to win the OHL Championship and advance to the Memorial Cup in Regina.
So what caused this team, barely in post season contention, to change their trajectory and dominate the OHL playoffs?
Well, warpaint and one inspirational individual. After a heartbreaking loss to Plymouth late in the season, former Ottawa 67’s forward Zenon Konopka gathered the team around a small flame burning in a garbage can at the back of the Compuware Arena parking lot.
He spoke from the heart and demanded that his teammates start thinking differently. From that point on they were going to war. Every game. Every shift. They were battling for their brothers and playing for the number on the front of their jerseys.
The next game the players took the ice for warm-ups with black stripes under their eyes. This act symbolized the restart of their season. It renewed their energy, their drive, and their confidence. Ottawa went on an 8-1-0 fury to end the season and finished fourth in the OHL’s Eastern Conference.
They would cruise through the OHL Playoffs, losing only four times in 20 contests. This accomplishment is even more amazing, as the 67’s only possessed home ice advantage in the opening round.
Reaching the Memorial Cup in Regina was a surreal situation for a team with not one OHL All-Star. After exerting immense effort through the OHL playoffs, Ottawa was exhausted. They valiantly fought with all their might, but were unable to win the championship tournament.
Though they did not win the Memorial Cup, this Ottawa 67’s team will always be called champions. One defining moment changed their entire attitude. Though he’ll never admit the impact he had, Konopka willed his team to success. His inspiring speech fuelled the fire needed for Ottawa’s group to dominate.
67’s owner Jeff Hunt recalls the transformation Konopka created within the team, “He initiated a whole new attitude for our team. He really did change the way our team played. It was quite remarkable. It took more than just the talent on our team to win the OHL Championship and go on to the Memorial Cup.”
It took a spark.
A spark that the Ottawa 67’s are reigniting this season. They’ve brought back the war paint and they’re playing for the number on the front of their jerseys. Starting in the first round with a black stripe under one eye, the players add another after each series victory. By doing so, they hope to channel some of that “lunch bucket” attitude of the 2001 team and defy their own odds at success.
Relish the opportunity to see these selfless kids put it all on the line in person by purchasing your tickets for Game 3 (today at 3 p.m.) and Game 4 (Wednesday, March 30, 7 p.m.) by clicking here, calling 613-232-6767 x1, or in person at the TD Place Box Office.