67's rising in the East

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:24 AM ET

Naturally, the 67's were among the teams asked if they had an interest in John Tavares.

Brian Kilrea said yes, but not at the price it would take to get him.

"I've got some players they'd like," the 67's coach and GM said yesterday, confirming he had received a call from the Oshawa Generals about the Team Canada hero. "But I wasn't willing to give them up."

It's tough to blame him.

Minus two of their top-four defencemen and one of their best forwards, the surprising 67's have strung together an eight-game streak in which they've earned points. They'll take that momentum into today's OHL trade deadline and tonight's bout with world junior gold-medal-winning blueliner Alex Pietrangelo and his Niagara IceDogs.

While Western Conference powers Windsor and London have added to their rosters -- the Knights ended up landing Tavares -- and threaten to run even further ahead of the pack, the 67's are in an enviable position in the relatively quiet East.

Before last night's games, they were third in the conference, one point back of the Brampton Battalion and nine points behind the Belleville Bulls, but with three games in hand. Also, 17 of Ottawa's last 29 games are at home, including three this weekend.

Not expected to be a true contender again until next season, the 67's can in fact be considered one right now.

"I think we have a good team," said captain Logan Couture. "But obviously, adding a strong player would help our chances."

OVERAGE SPOTS OPEN

Kilrea is trying. Remarkably, he has two overage spots and a European spot open. But as of last night, he wasn't overly optimistic about filling them or doing much of anything else before today's noon deadline.

"We've talked about strengthening our lineup, but it looks like nothing is going to fit," he said.

Kilrea made his big trades before the season, acquiring top-scoring winger Corey Cowick from Oshawa, and a month ago sending Mike Latta to Guelph for forward Anthony Nigro and defenceman Travis Gibbons.

"If we're trying to get better (now), we'd be looking at a first-line forward, either on the right side or the left, to give us some depth and strength," said Kilrea.

While it appeared the 67's could use help on the blue line, that notion was dispelled in the absence of Tyler Cuma, Martin Paryzek and rookie Ryan Hanes. Gibbons, Julien Demers and rookies Brian Birkhoff, Derek Hartwick and Marc Zanetti have played well. Cuma (knee) and Hanes (ankle) will likely miss another 2-3 weeks, while Paryzek returns tonight from the world championship.

"I like our defence," said Kilrea. "Those young kids can handle it. I haven't been looking for defencemen at all."

SOLID GOALTENDING

Kilrea is also quite happy with the team's goaltending. Adam Courchaine has played exceptionally well of late to relieve Chris Perugini of the No. 1 reins. The 67's get another boost tonight when rookie Tyler Toffoli returns from the under-17 championship. In 35 games, Toffoli has 10 goals and 27 points.


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