Ottawa rallies behind 67’s as OHL playoffs approach

The City of Ottawa hosted a playoff flag-raising ceremony at city hall on Tuesday morning as the OHL regular season ended this weekend and the Ottawa 67’s geared up for what they hope will be a deep playoff run and a Memorial Cup victory.

Joining the team was Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, sports commissioner Coun. Mathieu Fleury and Coun. Riley Brockington.

The 67’s are currently enjoying their best season in recent history, clinching first place in the OHL’s Eastern Conference for the first time since the 2002-03 season.

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The team has clear Memorial Cup aspirations, with their last national championship coming in 1999 when Ottawa hosted the tournament.

Goaltender Michael DiPietro, who’s registered a .911 save percentage on the year with two shutouts in his last three games, stressed the importance of carrying the team’s recent momentum into the playoffs as well as sticking to what’s made the 67’s so successful this year.

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“Any time you’re gearing up for the playoffs, you want to make sure you’re firing on all cylinders, not just myself but the team in general,” said DiPietro. “I think just carrying out a good week of practice, just keep doing what we’ve been doing all year, establishing those habits and just carrying it over.”

“I know playoffs kind of get hyped up and everything, but at the end of the day, we have to stick to our system and do what’s made us successful all year.”

The team has enjoyed a special year to this point, cruising through the regular season and sitting in first place throughout, something that isn’t lost on DiPietro and his teammates.

“It certainly gives us a good boost. It gives us a lot of confidence heading into games knowing, OK, we’re the No. 1 seed, let’s play like it. We’re not second-guessing ourselves; we have confidence in everyone in the room,” DiPietro said. “Me, personally, I’ve never been on a first-place team in my entire hockey career so to be on one is super cool.

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“I think the guys are really motivated to just finish off on the right note this weekend and just keep building our habits, keep building our game and make sure we’re ready for the playoffs,” he added.

As a goaltender, DiPietro has a unique vantage point during games.

One of the reasons for the team’s success, he says, is their ability to control play and stick to a game plan.

“One thing that coaches really preach ever since I got traded here was just the process, staying in the moment, keep building our game no matter what the score is,” he said. “I think the boys have really been good on the transition, breaking out pucks, just keeping our puck possession totals really high compared to the opposition.”

It’s been a frustrating year for hockey fans in the nation’s capital, as the Senators are currently dead last in the NHL.

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The 67’s, however, have been a constant source of excitement for the city, and Watson is well aware of what a successful team does both for fan morale and the city as a whole.

“It boosts the spirits of the city. Obviously, our NHL team has had a rough year both on and off the ice, but the 67’s have been very consistent and they’ve played great hockey. The attendance numbers are way up, which helps Lansdowne as well,” said Watson.

“The last time we won a Memorial Cup was 1999. It’s been a bit of a drought so they’ve done really well, and I hope they go all the way.”

It’s been a memorable year for Ottawa’s junior hockey team, and the support of the community should only grow as the playoffs near.

The 67’s wrap up their regular season this weekend with home games against Peterborough on Friday and Kingston on Sunday before starting their run towards the Memorial Cup next week.