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Hand Them The Conference Now; 67's Lose 5-1 to Niagara

Once again, a conference leader has come into Ottawa for a highly-touted, late-season matchup. And once again, they completely embarassed the 67's. This time, it wasn't the league leading London Knights sending the Ottawa faithful home disappointed. It was the Niagara Ice Dogs, in a game that basically decided the Eastern Conference. For a team that probably won't draw 8,000 fans again for a long, long time, these 67's sure don't seem to motivated by the large, intimidating crowd.

The seventh man can only do so much. As the 67's killed off an early four-minute Niagara powerplay, the J Benson Cartage Centre was absolutely electric. But the home side, minus Petr Mrazek, gave the fans very little to get excited about. All it took was a simple blunder off a faceoff, and Freddie Hamilton had his first on the night to make it 1-0.

And from there, it was a disaster for Ottawa. The team couldn't connect on any breakout passes, they allowed Niagara to walk around their defence, nothing went right. A big reason for that? Line juggling. Again. I understand why a team with 11 forwards would rotate fourth-liners Remy Giftopoulos and Daniel Walsh through the lineup, but there's no reason that Shane Prince still needs to be played with every single other forward on the team. Why not dress Ryan MacLean if 11 forwards are so difficult to roll?

Prince, who started the game on the fourth line with Giftopoulos and Walsh, followed up the Hamilton marker with Ottawa's only goal of the game, taking a drop pass from Tyler Graovac and beating Mark Visentin glove side. If nothing else, with hopes that Ottawa will be in the conference finals and the expectation that if they get there, they will have to face Niagara again, it's good to know how easily the 67's can beat Visentin early in games. Niagara's goaltender has now allowed four goals on his first nine shots in the Nation's Capital this year.

Hamilton added his 34th and 35th goals of the season to complete the hattrick, totally sinking the 67's heading into the third period. Visentin would end up shutting the door for a 29-save win, as Andrew Agozzino and Joel Wigle rounded out the scoring less than a minute apart early in the third. Mrazek stood on his head for the first two periods, but he could only keep the team in the game for so long. He stopped 42 shots in the loss.

One bright spot for the 67's was the OHL debut of the afformentioned Daniel Walsh. Walsh, who was signed earlier this week at the conclusion of his season with the CJHL's Cumberland Grads, was cheered on by a number of friends and former teammates in the upper bowl on Friday night. At the end of a hard-hitting shift in the second period, while the score was 2-1, Walsh launched himself into 6'7 Ice Dogs defenceman Jamie Oleksiak, a hit that sent the crowd into an uproar. He may have finished a -1 on the night, but his energy was great to see, especially on a night like this. He nearly added his first OHL goal, too. If he keeps up his play, that first marker won't take too long to get.

Also, this game wasn't as one-sided physically as the game a year ago against Niagara, where a pair of cheapshots by Myles Doan and Tim Billingsley knocked Thomas Nesbitt and Prince out of the lineup respectively, neither of which returned to form by playoff time. This time around, neither team won any sort of physical battle. The extent of the rough stuff in the game was put to an end as Ryan Shipley, in just his second game back from injury, took on overager Alex Friesen in a heated bout.

Now, the 67's have basically conceded the Eastern Conference. It looks as though Ottawa will head into the playoffs as the second seed for the third year in a row. Meaning that it's very possible the Mississauga St. Mikes Majors could be Ottawa's first round opponent, meaning that Sunday's game here could be a playoff preview as the 67's play host to the Majors. Ottawa closes out their home schedule as they take on the Sudbury Wolves next Friday, before they head out on the road to play this Niagara team one more time, and finally closing out the regular season in Brampton on the 18th.

Announced earlier this week, the Ottawa 67's will host Game 1 of their first-round playoff series on Friday, March 23rd. Tickets are on sale now.

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