Byrne-ing desire to win

DON BRENNAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:35 AM ET

A new chapter in 67's history begins nine hours up the north highway tonight, with the author's attention solely on Page 1.

"I'm never going to hit those marks," coach Chris Byrne said yesterday of the Hall of Fame numbers posted by Brian Kilrea, the winningest coach Canadian junior hockey has ever known. "That's not going to be my focus."

Never? Wait a second. It's sports. You never say never.

"My focus needs to be on one game at a time, and having a good season," Byrne said as the team bus made its way to Sault Ste. Marie and the OHL season opener vs. the Greyhounds. "Maybe if I get 20 years into a career here, we can talk about it. But I haven't even got my first win yet. I don't think we need to start counting backwards from 1,193."

Byrne, who will have assistant Mark Grady at his side, says he'll feel no extra nervousness taking the place of a legend behind the visitors' bench at the Essar Centre.

"I'm my own guy," said Byrne, who spent three years as Kilrea's assistant. "I put more pressure on myself than anybody. I want to do well because of my expectations are high. I want to do a great job."

Team owner Jeff Hunt is sure he will.

"I think Byrnie is going to be fine. Personally, I put a lot of stock in the success he had in Tier II (two CJHL titles with Nepean). He's been successful as a coach of junior players. I think he understands kids of that age. He's a disciplinarian and a guy that gets the most of his players. All you can ask of a coach is that he gets the most out of the players."

Defenceman Julien Demers has returned from the San Jose Sharks but will sit out this weekend with a minor knee injury. Fellow blueliner Tyler Cuma is still with the Minnesota Wild. It would be a surprise if Cuma, who had his own knee woes last seeason, didn't return to the 67's at some point.

High-scoring winger Corey Cowick, a Senators draft pick, should return from shoulder surgery some time in the new year.

'SKATING TEAM'

The 67's will be led by the above three, as well as two potential high first-round NHL picks -- Tyler Toffoli and Ryan Martindale. Veterans Thomas Nesbitt, Cody Lindsay, Anthony Nigro and Travis Gibbons add depth.

Winger Dalton Smith, in his first full year, is one to watch.

"We want to be a skating team that gets after other teams and plays hard. It's all about work," Byrne, a former CJHL tough guy, said when asked the identity of his team.

Byrne thinks the 67's can push for the division title.

"If we have everybody here and healthy, we have a chance to compete for the conference (crown). I'd like to see what the first 10 games brings before we set what we want to do."

The 67's will start veteran Chris Perugini in goal tonight and likely use rookie Czech Peter Mzarek vs. the Sudbury Wolves on Saturday.

Martindale will centre the first line between Finnish winger Matias Sointu and Nigro. Toffoli helms the second unit between Lindsay and Nesbitt, and Andrew Merrett will be between Smith and Jon Carnevale on the third line. Peter Schinkelshoek, Dylan Anderson, Steve Janes and Tyler Graovac are in the mix for the fourth line.

The defensive pairs will see Gibbons with Derek Hartwick, Brian Birkoff with rookie Cody Ceci, and Marc Zanetti with Ryan Hanes.

"The guys in this group have something to prove to the new coach," said Toffoli, who scored 17 goals and 46 points in 54 games last year as a rookie. "We're working hard to earn our ice time and a spot on the team.

"I played in the playoffs last year and it was a lot of fun. We're going to do everything we can to get past the first round this year and go deep into the playoffs."

It all starts tonight in the Soo. Page 1.

DON.BRENNAN@SUNMEDIA.CA


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