67's hit bump at yule break

BARRE CAMPBELL -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 8:07 AM ET

Brian Kilrea spent the better part of yesterday getting a new hot water tank installed at his home.

How appropriate, since he's probably going to be turning up the heat on many of his 67's players when they return to Ottawa following the Christmas break.

The team is halfway through the season and is clearly at a crossroads.

Where they'll end up is anybody's guess -- which should sound familiar given the team's famous playoff run last year after stumbling through a mediocre regular season.

With the OHL trading deadline approaching early next month, Kilrea -- the 67's coach and GM -- will need to make a decision on the team's direction for the second half.

The choices are clear.

- He can make a deal to land a veteran or two to help the team clinch a playoff spot and try for a league championship.

- He can deal some of the club's veterans to contenders like Peterborough and London for younger hotshots who could contribute to the team's championship aspirations in the next couple of years.

- Or he can stand pat and do nothing, which would be the least likely of the three options.

The way the first portion of the season went for the 67's, you'd think Kilrea would be inclined to go with building for the future, rather than a playoff run.

SEVENTH IN EAST

Even making the playoffs this year is no gimme.

After losing four straight to fall below the .500 mark heading into the Christmas break, the 67's can't consider a spot in the post-season as some sort of birthright.

They're sitting seventh in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of Belleville, which holds the final playoff spot.

Meanwhile, the two teams that are on the outside of the playoff picture -- Mississauga and Oshawa -- have been making progress and are closing in on the rest of the pack.

Then again, the 67's are also within striking distance of moving up in the conference standings and, despite the current losing skid, still have a chance of finishing in the top four which would give them home-ice advantage in the early rounds of the playoffs.

Basically, the second half can be narrowed down to what kind of team shows up during the next few months and the direction Kilrea chooses when talking turkey with the other league GMs.

"Every year around this time, there's always some guys that get a little worried about what's going to happen," said defenceman and assistant captain Elgin Reid.

"Maybe some of the guys aren't playing the way they wanted to, and it looks like Killer is going to make some moves. Everybody knows that. It's part of the game and you've just got to cope with that and make sure it's out of your mind."

Kilrea admitted that the first half of the year was disappointing, but said the team didn't fare so badly, considering the number of young players on the team.

"We thought we'd be somewhere around .500 at this point and have about 40 points, and we're six points back of that now," said Kilrea. "But all the guys know that there's a lot of room for improvement and that they can play better."

As usual, Kilrea provided little insight into his thoughts as the trade deadline approaches.

On one hand, he spoke about how some of his veterans could make an impact on one of those contending teams like the Petes or Knights.

But a few minutes later, he talked about having hope for the players to make something happen in the upcoming months.

"There's some pretty good talent on this team, but it hasn't showed up consistently," he said.

"The hardest-working teams will win. A perfect example of that is Guelph. They just go out and work and work, but we've got guys taking shortcuts.

"If our guys show up and work, then we'll be fine. But if we don't, a lot of it has to do with attitude and desire and if they don't have that, then it's really not acceptable."

INTERESTING SECOND HALF

Regardless of the direction Kilrea chooses, the rest of the year should be nothing short of interesting.

"We always seem to want to make it hard on ourselves for some reason," said Reid.

"There's a lot of pressure on us and we've got to start winning games. It's a tough conference and everybody's even. It's just a matter of which team is going to be able to put it all together. If we can, then we'll be all right."

We shall see.


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