For the first time since 1984, a team from the nation’s capital has won its way into Canada’s National Midget Championship.
The Ottawa Jr. 67’s will make the 793-kilometre trip to Sault Ste. Marie as Central Region champions.
The Jr. 67’s are the first Ottawa-area team to win the regional championship since the Ottawa West Golden Knights 29 years ago, in the first year of the six-team regional format.
The Ottawa Valley Titans played in the 2008 TELUS Cup in Arnprior, Ont., but did so as the host team.
“I actually looked through the record book myself prior to the season to see when the last time an Ottawa team earned a spot,” head coach Travis Crickard told the Ottawa Citizen. “I knew how long ago it was. I also knew that if we were able to do something like this we wouldn’t just be winning a provincial championship, we would be changing the face of Major Midget hockey in the Ottawa area.”
The runaway regular season champions in the Ottawa East Minor Hockey League, the Jr. 67’s finished 13 points ahead of the second-place Canadian International Hockey Academy.
But it looked as if the playoff run would be a short one when Ottawa lost the first two games of its first-to-eight-points OEMHL semifinal against the OHA Gold Mavericks.
Since their Game 2 loss on February 24, the Jr. 67’s have gone 11-2-4.
They won the last four games against the Mavericks, beat CIHA 7-5 in the OEMHL final and took second in the Central Regional preliminary round with a 3-1-1 record.
A 2-1 semifinal win over the Vaughan Kings set up a gold medal game match-up against the only team to beat the Jr. 67’s at the regional tournament, the Whitby Wildcats, who had knocked off Sault Ste. Marie, the TELUS Cup host, in double overtime in their semifinal.
Holding a 5-3 lead and less than six minutes from a trip to the TELUS Cup, Ottawa saw its lead evaporate thanks to a pair of Andrew Zupancic goals in the third period, bringing the Wildcats even and forcing overtime.
Playoff overtime often provides the unlikeliest of heroes, and it was Dan Laframboise, who had just three goals in 45 regular season and playoff games, providing the winner in the second extra period, sneaking a backhand from the slot through traffic.
“The thing I like most about our team is how calm we are when there’s pressure,” Crickard said. “We’ve won a lot of close games and even when Whitby came back to tie it, at no point did we begin to panic.”
The third time was a charm for the Jr. 67’s, who lost in the regional final in both 2010 and 2011. They also made trips to the tournament in 2008, 2009 and 2012, but missed the semifinals each year.
HOW THEY GOT TO SAULT STE. MARIE
Ontario East Minor Hockey League
Semifinal: defeated OHA Gold 8-4 (1-3, 1-2, 5-2, 3-2, 6-2, 2-0)
OEMHL championship: defeated CIHA 7-5 (3-3, 3-2, 2-5, 3-3, 5-1, 1-1)
Preliminary round: 3-1-1 – 2nd place (defeated Vaughan 3-1, defeated London 4-3, tied Sault Ste. Marie 4-4, lost to Whitby 5-2, defeated Upper Canada 4-2)
Semifinal: defeated Vaughan 2-1
Championship game: defeated Whitby 6-5 2OT
Record: 24-3-1 (1st in OEMHL)
Goals For: 121 (1st in OEMHL)
Goals Against: 45 (1st in OEMHL)
Longest Winning Streak: 9 (Sept. 20-Nov. 10)
Top 3 Scorers:
- Ryan Kuffner – 27G 36A 63P (1st in OEMHL)
- Matthew Hudson – 14G 17A 31P (7th in NSMMHL)
- Tyler Pancel – 5G 25A 30P (8th in NSMMHL)
Goals For: 60
Goals Against: 47
Top 3 Scorers:
- Ryan Kuffner – 11G 17A 28P
- Jason Wilson – 7G 10A 17P
- Matt Foget – 8G 7A 15P
NATIONAL MIDGET CHAMPIONSHIP HISTORY
PLAYERS TO WATCH
relies on athleticism and aggressiveness to maximize net coverage … displays good composure … lets opposition make the first move … quick reactions … tremendous work ethic … never-quit mentality
dependable in all three zones … has an arsenal of offensive weapons … tremendous vision … fantastic release in the slot … finds a way to make an impact in every game … elite offensive skills … uses his teammates well
backbone of the blue-line … logs big minutes in key situations … shot is an elite threat … acts as triggerman from the point … great defensive zone awareness … great mobility for his size … can outmuscle opposition
OHL DRAFTED PLAYERS
Medric Mercier – Sault Ste. Marie 2012 (7th round, 138th overall)
Nicholas Ngwafusi – Ottawa 2012 (12th round, 224th overall)