Now or Never for Jeff Brown’s Young 67’s

The Ottawa 67’s are the Ontario Hockey League’s worst hockey team right now.

On a seven-game losing skid (0-6-1), the youthful 67’s are 2-7-1 in their last 10 and find themselves in a dead heat with North Bay for the 8th and final playoff spot in the league’s Eastern Conference. Defence has been especially shoddy for the 67’s, co-owners of the league’s worst defence (237 GA).

The good news is all of this was to be expected: In opting to ice a team with six defencemen in either their 16- or 17-year, the organization knew there would be bumps and bruises. But a disastrous 2-5 homestand some weeks ago saw the 67’s slide back into the playoff race, and with Stan Butler’s Battalion making a late push, Ottawa is in very real danger of missing the playoffs outright.

The better news? The 67’s have actually played decent hockey as of late. While they have just one point to show for it, their last three games have all been decided by a goal. Against credible opponents in Oshawa, Hamilton and London to boot.

With no more head-to-head matchups with North Bay, the 67’s will have to string wins together in their final 12 games — something they haven’t done since the turn of the calendar (2017: 4-14-1). Coincidentally, eight of those final 12 games will come at home for Ottawa, which inexplicably owns the worst home record (8-17-1) on the 20-team circuit.

The challenge of righting the ship falls to Brown, who has repeatedly accepted responsibility for his team’s second-half collapse and is the architect not only of their play style but their roster makeup. That challenge begins in earnest this weekend, with the 67’s set to host three strong playoff teams in a gruelling three-in-three homestand.

First-place Oshawa (34-17-5) will visit TD Place Arena on Friday night (7 p.m.), with fourth-place Hamilton (28-23-5) and seventh-place Niagara (19-28-10) then rolling into town for 2 p.m. starts on Saturday and Sunday afternoon respectively.

Sunday’s game against the Ice Dogs could prove to be the most winnable/important of the weekend, as Ottawa sits just two points back of the ‘Dogs with a game in hand in the jumble that is the bottom of the East.

With a month of hockey left, this weekend’s homestand will not make or break the Ottawa 67’s season. It could, however, dictate whether they’re on the outside looking in entering the final stretch.