67’s finding positives in recent adversity

Raine Hernandez

The past couple of weekends haven’t been overly kind to the Ottawa 67’s, as they hold a record of 2-2-1-1 through their past six games. Featuring matchups against some of the league’s top teams, and plenty of time on the bus, adversity has struck, forcing the Barber Poles to battle back.

Although taking four of six points last weekend, it came through just one win, as both the London Knights and Hamilton Bulldogs found winners after regulation. Assistant Coach Norm Milley says that the loss to London on Friday night took some of the air out of the locker room, as the team boarded the bus bound for Hamilton immediately after the game.

“Overall, I don’t think we played our best hockey,” Milley admitted. “It’s only natural that after the game against London to have a letdown. It’s something we can learn and grow from, and we have to if we want to have a good playoff push.”

That letdown came with consequences in Hamilton, Milley says.

“We came out a little flat,” he said. “I don’t think we gave Hamilton enough credit or respect. They have a good young team, they play hard, and they are well-coached.”

The two losses to start the weekend marked a four-game losing skid for the Barber Poles, their longest of the season. Recent acquisition Logan Morrison, who has been through the wringer of the OHL playoffs, winning a championship last season with the Bulldogs, says the streak was little reason for panic.

“I’ve been through worse with other teams,” Morrison said. “We would have loved to go three-for-three, [but we got] four of six points on a weekend where a lot of travel is involved.”

Against the Mississauga Steelheads on Sunday, the Barber Poles found their way back into the win column, serving as a reminder that they can go on the road and win a tough game.

Still, the weekend upcoming – with trips to Flint, Saginaw, and Sarnia – looks equally as challenging as the previous two weekends. It’s possibly the toughest stretch of the season, but Milley says that it’s a good chance to gain experience.

“The last month or so has been a tough grind for the players,” Milley said. “In practice, we’re toning it down a bit to give them some energy, but it’s a good way to learn. In the playoffs, the grind is going to be a lot harder than this.”

According to forward Brad Gardiner, a difficult stretch of games isn’t an excuse, saying the players in the room know what they need to do, regardless of any other factors.

“It’s another long road trip, and the schedule has been a bit busy,” he said. “Everyone knows that we just have to take care of ourselves and go into the weekend positive.”

Now entering the latter stages of the season, conversations about the standings are only natural, but in the locker room, focusing on the 67’s is far more important. The Barber Poles control their own destiny, and don’t need to worry about what any other team is doing, as long as the results keep coming.

The focus has been on themselves, as a result. The coaching staff continues to preach development, aiming to get better each day.

“Our guys have done a good job of continuing to the next day,” Milley said. “The vets are pushing the pace in practice, not letting things get too light, and our bread and butter is getting better the next day. We don’t think too much about the standings, but we want to win the day.”

Getting the train back on the rails won’t be easy this weekend. All three opponents are well over .500, and Morrison has been telling his teammates that it’s going to take everyone to figure it out.

“It’s the true definition of a grind to go all the way,” Morrison said. “I’m trying to help them realize that we need every single guy in there performing every game to do it. There can’t be any passengers.”

In the moment, adversity may seem like a bad thing, but as they say, pressure makes diamonds.

“It pushes everyone, and I think it’s going to be pretty big for us, especially in the playoffs,” Gardiner said. “We know we are going to face adversity, and it never hurts to face it [before the playoffs].”

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