67's have a rare shot at redemption

BARRE CAMPBELL -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 7:27 AM ET

LONDON -- One day to mope ... that's it, that's all.

And that was yesterday.

Beginning today, the 67's must forget what happened against the Knights and look ahead to the opportunity that exists at the Memorial Cup.

Sure it was tough for the 67's to watch as the Knights celebrated their first OHL title in franchise history on Saturday night.

And it was tough to bow out in five games, losing Game 5 by a disappointing 6-2 score.

But, really, who gave the 67's a chance vs. London?

It was written that Ottawa had likely won its last game of the season before the OHL championship started.

And why not? The Knights were the top-ranked team in junior hockey, had an absolutely stacked lineup full of all-stars and -- heading into the league final -- had lost only once at home the entire season.

INCREDIBLE FUN RUN

The Knights had a mind-boggling 31-game undefeated run that saw them set a new CHL mark en route to a regular-season record of 59-7-2-0 record. By comparison, Ottawa was 34-26-7-1 -- or 44 points behind.

So it's little wonder why few -- if any -- people felt the 67's could compete with the Knights.

Yet, despite the overwhelming odds, the 67's had the Knights thinking and the London fans worried when the final began 10 days ago.

Ottawa fought back from a 3-0 deficit in the opening game with two goals early in the third period and nearly tied it before the Knights scored on a power play to win 4-2.

Then the 67's stunned the junior hockey world by winning 6-3 two days later, handing the Knights just their second loss on home ice all season.

The 67's returned home with confidence, but did little at the Civic Centre in their two home games to help them toward scoring what could have been the biggest upset in junior hockey history.

The Knights swept the games in Ottawa and, when they returned to London for Saturday's game, a series-clinching victory seemed like only a matter of playing the game.

It turned out that Ottawa stuck around for half the game before the Knights pulled away in the second and went on to secure the victory and the championship.

That left a lot of the 67's wondering: What if?

"Every guy in that room wanted to win. Whether it's here or it's Timbuktu, it doesn't matter," said Ottawa winger Mark Mancari, a London native who scored 14 playoff goals to lead the OHL.

"It's really disappointing. We just wish we could have came out and made it a better series."

But this is where it gets good: The 67's have a shot at redemption.

In most years, they'd be forced to live though the off-season trying to figure out what went wrong.

But in 2005, they've been given another chance.

The day after next Saturday's opener between the host Knights and QMJHL-champion, Sidney Crosby-led Rimouski Oceanic, the 67's will begin their quest for a third Memorial Cup title against the WHL-champion Kelowna Rockets, who also happen to be the defending champs.

So Ottawa will assume its role as underdog -- as it did through the entire OHL post-season.

They weren't supposed to beat the Barrie Colts in the first round. They won in six games.

They weren't supposed to beat the Sudbury Wolves in the second round. They won in six games.

They weren't supposed to beat the Peterborough Petes in the East final. They broomed them off in four straight games.

They weren't supposed to put up a fight in the league final against the Knights. But they won a game and scored 15 goals in the five-game series (An incredible total if you consider London allowed only 125 goals in 68 games this season or 1.84 per game).

CHERISHED ROLE

Now, it's time for the Memorial Cup and the 67's are back in their cherished role as underdogs -- although their opponents aren't likely to treat them as such.

"I think these teams are going to look at us and say, 'That's a team that works hard and surprised a lot of people,' " Mancari said.

So while the 67's stumbled in the last couple of games against the Knights, they now have a week to get back on track.

A week under the tutelage of coach Brian Kilrea. A week to heal the aches and pains -- especially those belonging to rookie winger Jamie McGinn.

So, as you can see, there's no more time for the 67's to mope around.

It's time to hit the practice ice and get ready ... ready to try and win the Memorial Cup.


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