67's peaking for 'great playoff run'

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:22 AM ET

There aren't many people who believe the Ottawa 67's have a chance against the London Knights.

Which is nothing new, says the 67's Mark Mancari. He feels every team Ottawa has met in the playoffs has underestimated his hockey club.

Doing so has proven deadly for the opposition. His team is heading into the OHL final beginning Friday in London.

"I don't know why they've underestimated us, but we're playing really well right now," the London native said. "We have all the respect in the world for London, but we have a lot of talent in this room and no matter who we put out, they're going to go out and do their job."

The Knights coaching staff needs no convincing. The 67's eliminated the Peterborough Petes in four straight to win the Eastern Conference title. It was a series many expected would be a lot closer, with the Petes having the edge.

"I thought it was going to be a heck of a series, six or seven games one way or another," Knights assistant coach Jeff Perry said. "Obviously, Ottawa is peaking at the right time. They've had a great playoff run. They've beaten out some worthy opponents."

Perry wants to be clear: the Knights neither disrespect nor underestimate the 67's.

"In the playoffs, we're 12-1 and they're 12-5. They have 12 wins to get where they're at, just as we do," he said. "The regular season puts us in the position of home-ice advantage and we know how special that's been in this building for us (one loss all year). But other than that, both teams are here in the same position. We'll take it one win at a time because, as you can see in the playoffs, anything can happen."

So why is there this pervasive feeling that the 67's are going to have a hard time in the final?

It isn't just about the 67's. Pretty much anyone in the Eastern Conference wouldn't have been given much of a chance against the top teams in the Western Conference.

The 67's finished sixth in the East but only six points out of first place. Their 76 points was 44 behind the record 120 total of the Knights.

How much of a surprise can there be? In junior hockey, teams always fear the unpredictable.

"They are getting good goaltending. Their top players have elevated their game," Perry said. "The top three lines are pretty balanced in terms of scoring and they can come at you offensively."

The goaltender is Danny Battochio, who's played in all 16 games and has a 2.70 goals-against average with a .932 save percentage.

Mancari has had a great playoff run with nine goals and seven assists. Chris Hulit leads the 67's in scoring with 10 goals and 10 assists. The 67's European component is key to their success with Lukas Kaspar and Jakub Petruzalek playing on the same line.

One thing is predictable. It won't be the type of vicious series the Rangers and Knights just completed.

"They're a little more of a passing, shooting, skating squad whereas Kitchener was an in-your-face, physical brand of hockey," Perry said. "You'll see more of a high-tempo, high-skill level."

The 67's can score. They scored 244 times, tops in the Eastern Conference. Coach Brian Kilrea's teams usually focus on skill and skating. But Kilrea has been around the junior game longer than any other coach. He's seen just about everything there is to see, meaning there isn't anything he hasn't had to coach against.

"When you look at his teams in the past, they play a wide-open brand of hockey," Perry said. "Having said that, we did see this year that they trapped a little bit against us, which is not what Killer normally does. He's a great coach and can adapt."

The Knights have played against teams that trap, teams that play it wide open, teams that sit back and wait for a break and teams that want to win by staging a war of attrition.

Whatever Kilrea comes up with, it's going to have to be something special. Anything less and this is going to be a short series.


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