The Ottawa 67's are eager to prove last year was no fluke.
The team set a franchise record for most points in the regular season, and then won a record-breaking 14 straight playoff games in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs before being abruptly eliminated in the finals by the Guelph Storm.
They were back in Guelph for Friday night's season opener, and exacted some measure of revenge, notching a 3-2 win in a shootout.
The 67's make their home ice debut next Sunday at TD Place, and players say they're excited to build on a renewed appreciation from the city.
Fan support 'awesome'
"Having the city rallying behind the team, it's obviously awesome," said goaltender Cédrick Andrée, an Ottawa native who grew up watching the club.
Having six veteran defencemen returning from last season, he added, is even better.
"That's obviously exciting for a goalie, when you've got a [defence] corps like this," said Andrée, who made 27 saves in the season opener. "It makes my job a lot easier."
The excitement for this year's squad — despite losing big names like Mike DiPietro, Kody Clark and Tye Felhaber — might help ease the sting of last year's unceremonious exit, which also ended the team's quest for the Memorial Cup.
"It's hard to forget what we did last year, but it's a new season. So we're kind of just focused on what we're doing now," said Andrée.
Perhaps the most exciting player on the team — one with hopes of being selected early in the NHL draft — is Marco Rossi.
"I'm just trying to get better day-by-day, improving my game," he told reporters on Thursday, adding he put on nearly five kilograms of muscle in the off-season in hopes of improving his speed.
Head coach André Tourigny is also hoping to see a faster team this season. He said he's already getting a lot of questions from fans wondering if this year's squad can be even better than the 2018-19 team.
"Last year was a fantastic season. We were probably, it's fair to say, ahead of the curve. We were not expecting to be at that point at Christmas," said Tourigny.
While the post-Christmas trades helped the 67's dominate the regular season, Tourigny said that meant giving up the flexibility of making similar deals this year.
"But we're really confident with the team we have," he added.