67's set sights on division title

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:01 AM ET

The Ottawa 67's play their first home game of the new year tonight, returning bigger and better than they were in 2004.

But exactly how good is Brian Kilrea's team after moves made leading into the Jan. 10 trade deadline? Good enough to win the division, says Kilrea, and the conference title is there for the taking.

"That's what we're hoping for," Kilrea, whose 67's enter tonight's game against the Erie Otters with 38 points and a a record one game above .500, about the possibility of catching the East Division leading Peterborough Petes (46 points).

"And I think our (conference) is wide open for everybody.

"It's going to come down to who's hot and who is injury free at the right time."

The 67's will almost have their full lineup when they take on the Otters (7:30 p.m., Civic Centre), who are 19-11-4-4 (46 points) in the tough Midwest Division.

Czech stars Lukas Kaspar and Jakub Petruzalek are back from the World Junior Championships in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Jamie McGinn and Matt Lahey have returned after representing Ontario in the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in Lethbridge, Alberta.

And newcomers Brad Staubitz and Jamie VanderVeeken will be making their debuts as 67's after being acquired in this week's trade with the Soo Greyhounds.

The only noticeable absence will be Chris Hulit, but he could be back this weekend after what was thought could be a case of mono was diagnosed as a flu.

Kilrea is anxious to see Staubitz and VanderVeeken in action.

"Staubitz is a defensive defenceman who is good and strong in his own end," Kilrea said of his new overager. "VanderVeeken is not a great goal scorer, but he's a big body who will hit guys.

"I think he needs a little work on his conditioning, but all the guys were off all week ... down the road, I think he will be a great player for us, too."

Kilrea will use Danny Battochio in goal tonight, but has yet to finalize netminding plans for what will be a big weekend.

Tomorrow night, the 67's are in Peterborough to take on the Petes, while Sunday they return home to host the St. Michael's Majors.


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