Kilrea's 67's prove they're up to it

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:20 AM ET

If you're going to break a few of the laws of probability, why not just smash the whole lot of them into little pieces?

That could, one day soon, be a summary of the Ottawa 67's season. Unsung and unappreciated, the 67's have defied the odds. It was a challenge to make the Ontario Hockey League playoffs. They were underdogs to beat Barrie in the first round. They were underdogs to beat Sudbury in the next round. And, guess what? They were underdogs to win the Eastern Conference championship against Peterborough.

"We know we're underdogs," said Ottawa coach and GM Brian Kilrea. "But it's a role we seem to do well in."

Now they're the mother of all underdogs against the London Knights in the OHL championship. They lost the first game Friday and despite a strong display of their legendary work ethic, the 67's managed to fall behind 3-2 after two periods yesterday. Ottawa led 1-0 after a period, thanks in large part to the brilliant goaltending of Dan Battochio, but London scored three of the four second-period goals to take the lead.

These are the same London Knights that lost one game at home out of 34 this year and had gone unbeaten there in seven previous playoff games. Talk about long odds for Ottawa.

In the Ottawa room after 40 minutes, nearly every player spoke up. They vowed to do whatever was necessary. Their concern was well-founded. Falling behind 2-0 in the series against a powerhouse like London would mean an almost certain end to their OHL title hopes.

So, after that rousing exercise in positive reinforcement, eight seconds into the third period, Ottawa's Julian Talbot nailed a London player from behind and received a well-deserved two-minute minor.

Down by a goal to a dominating team with a devastating power play, a dumb penalty was not supposed to be in the script.

"That was the last thing I wanted to see," Kilrea said.

What happened next didn't surprise Kilrea. It pleased him but, at 70 years of age, there's not a lot that can happen on a hockey rink that will surprise him. While Talbot sat in the penalty box wondering how he could make himself invisible, teammate Brad Bonello scored shorthanded to tie the score. A minute later, Ottawa scored again. By the 6:39 mark, the Knights' mystique was in tatters. The 67's led 6-3, having scored five third-period goals -- four that counted.

Improbable? Yes, of course. But in Brian Kilrea's world, nothing is impossible.

Saturday morning, while his team was mulling over its opening loss, Kilrea was 200 kilometres away, plotting his team's future at the OHL draft.

With the last-minute inclusion of 14-year-old John Tavares into the mix, Logan Couture, the displaced No. 1 pick, let his disappointment be known in letters sent by his agent to every OHL team. If drafted, he would not report, was the message.

Kilrea sat quietly while 11 teams passed, then selected Couture with the 12th pick.

"Don't wave a red flag at an old bull," Kilrea said.

That's his way of saying how much he relishes a challenge. Especially one that might allow him to steal the best player in the draft.

After yesterday's improbable win, there was Couture and his family, from nearby St. Thomas, down in the dressing room area at the John Labatt Centre, all smiles in a meet-and-greet with Kilrea. Word is, the Coutures are going to be in Ottawa as guests of the 67s later this week.

Like we said: The man loves a challenge.

That's a good thing because he and his tenacious players have all they can handle against the Knights, who will arrive in Ottawa for the third game tomorrow in ill-humour.

Will the Knights win? The laws of probability say yes. The rest is up to the 67's.


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