The Ottawa 67's will soon get an opportunity to prove they're ready to check and score their way through a long OHL playoff series, a surprise ending that didn't appear to be in the cards at the start of the season.
The team, seventh in the eastern conference, opens its 2017 playoff campaign against the second-ranked Mississauga Steelheads on Friday.
"For us to be here in the playoffs, it's an accomplishment. We're excited to be here. But we're not just happy with this. Our guys have really come on, our young guys, and really worked hard this year," said head coach Jeff Brown.
"So we're in a position where we feel like, 'You know what? We can compete against anyone in the east.' We've got a tough matchup with Mississauga. That's one of the top teams in the east, but I mean, you've got to beat them all at some point, right?"
Going in as underdogs
While the 67's go into the playoffs as underdogs, they split their regular season series with the Steelheads, winning two out of their four matches.
Both teams have had strong finishes to their respective seasons, with their goaltenders posting solid numbers down the stretch. Ottawa's Leo Lazarev improved to a 2.33-goals-against average and a .930 save percentage after Feb. 1.
For the 67's to succeed in this series, they'll have to find a way to get their power play going, said Brown, and they'll have to make things difficult for the skilled Steelheads.
Captain Travis Barron said it won't hurt for the 67's to try to get under their opponents' skin.
"They have really high-end scoring so we have to make life tough for their top players. And maybe if that's getting in their ear or finishing all your checks, it's just little things like that that can help. It's just making the game hard for them to play."
Youngest team in OHL
In October, when Barron was named captain, he was tasked with leading the youngest team in the OHL. He said it was a responsibility that he embraced, but one that forced him to mature rapidly.
Now, as the playoffs get underway, he says he's proud of how far the team's rookies have come. That includes players like forward Kody Clark, son of Toronto Maple Leafs legend Wendel Clark.
"I think we always knew we had a pretty good group. At the beginning of the season really weren't getting the bounces we wanted and a lot of the games we lost we should have been winning. But at the end of the season we started getting those bounces, winning games, and it really felt good," said Clark, who will have to miss the opening round with an injury.
"I think the youth and excitement of our team is going to help us in the playoffs."
Ottawa headed to Mississauga Thursday for games Friday night and Sunday afternoon. The series comes to Ottawa Tuesday and Thursday at TD Place arena.