Czech 'em out: 67's should be good again

BARRE CAMPBELL -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:11 AM ET

Just like death and taxes are life's only guarantees, the 67's and a winning season seem to be a given. As Brian Kilrea, who turns 70 in October, starts his 30th season behind the bench of one of the best junior hockey outfits on the planet, there's no indication that his players will fail to win as many games as they lose. The new season begins tonight when the 67's, who rode the bus to Sudbury yesterday, meet the Wolves.

The 67's appear to have good firepower up front, despite the departure of star Corey Locke who signed a contract with the Montreal Canadiens earlier this month.

The blue line should be solid when all the players injured during the pre-season become healthy.

And the goaltending is receiving praise from the coaches.

"I think we have a good group," said Kilrea. "We'll just have to wait and see how they all perform and see if they're ready to do what it takes to win."

Up front, Kilrea expects big things from Czech import wingers Lukas Kaspar and Jakub Petruzalek.

The plan had been to play Locke at centre with Kaspar at left wing and Petruzalek on the right side. Locke's agreement with the Canadiens, however, means that the two-time Ontario Hockey League MVP will play in the AHL this season.

Kilrea's Plan B keeps the two Czechs on the same line, with Peter Tsimikalis at centre. Tsimikalis had 20 goals and 61 points last year.

Kaspar, a 6-foot-2, 205-pounder from Most in the Czech Republic, was selected 22nd overall by the San Jose Sharks at the last NHL draft. Petruzalek, who reminds some of former 67's winger Lance Galbraith, had 38 goals and 51 assists in 53 junior games for Litvinov.

Kilrea says the big question for the Czechs is their ability to adapt to the North American game.

"I think they've got loads of talent, but they're finding out that maybe it's not so easy here, and that the goalies are good and that the defencemen are good," said Kilrea.

The second line has Julian Talbot at centre with Bryan Bickell at left wing and overager Jeremy Akeson on the right side.

The third unit combines youth with experience, with overager Brody Todd on the left side with rookie centre Pat Ouellette and first-year right winger Arron Alphonso.

Randy Johnston is at centre on the fourth line between rookies James McGinn and OHL first-round pick Matt Lahey.

The biggest concern for the team heading into the new season is on defence.

Veteran Kyle Wharton, a Stittsville native and second-round pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets, took a slash earlier this month from Senators winger Chris Neil during pre-season training and suffered a broken wrist that will keep him out of action for at least two more weeks.

Veteran blueliners Elgin Reid and Robbie Lawrance both suffered shoulder injuries during pre-season games and will not be available for the start of the season.

Kilrea moved Mark Mancari, who trailed only Locke among 67's forwards in scoring last year with 29 goals and 65 points, from his usual spot at right wing to the blue line. But the 67's yesterday acquired 19-year-old Nick Van Herpt from Mississauga for a 2007 fifth-round draft pick.

Van Herpt, who plays a physical style, could pair with veteran Will Colbert, an Arnprior native and Senators draftee. If Van Herpt arrives in time for today's game, Mancari will move up, perhaps lining up with Bickell and Talbot. Kilrea has rookie Derek Joslin with veteran Brodie Beard as another duo, while David Shaw and Tyson Aitcheson form the third defensive unit. The 67's will miss the production of Pierre Mitsou from the blue line. Mitsou scored 10 goals and had 42 points last season.

In goal, Lukas Mensator will play in Europe, which means Danny Battochio takes over as the team's No. 1 goalie. Backup Anthony Guadagnolo played eight games for the 67's last year.

On the penalty-killing unit, expect to see plenty of rookie Oullette, who reminds Kilrea of former 67's speedster Troy Stonier. As for the power play, Kilrea is concerned that it failed to work during the exhibition games.

"Up to this point, we haven't had one," said Kilrea. "We're working on it, and they'd better get it going."

Kilrea is already in mid-season form.

barre.campbell@ott.sunpub.com


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