While all the pre-game buzz centred on top-rated prospect Gabriel Landeskog, it was the class of the 2012 draft that stole the show Sunday in a thrilling 2-1 overtime win for the Ottawa 67’s over the visiting Kitchener Rangers.
With the Rona Centre packed with 7,590 fans and a full complement of NHL scouts in the house, it was Orleans native and future bluechip defenceman Cody Ceci, showing a poise well beyond his 17 years, who potted the game winner with 31 seconds remaining in extra time.
“I knew this was a big game and (my agent) told me there would be a few scouts in the building, so I knew I was going to come to play (Sunday),” said the 6-foot-2, 203-lb. defender, who was also asked to step up defensively in the absence of regular defence partner Marc Zanetti, who is sidelined with a knee injury.
“It’s still a year from my draft year, so I’m just trying to improve as much as I can and get ready for next year,” said Ceci, who only turned 17 in December.
“I’m just feeling more comfortable and confident right now, and that gives me the ability to step up when (the opportunity is there).”
Ceci’s goal, a roof shot over Kitchener goaltender Brandon Maxwell, preserved a 40-save performance from Shayne Campbell, who stepped in admirably for No. 1 netminder Petr Mrazek, who is also out with a groin injury.
“It’s tough with Petr hurt, but I saw it as a great opportunity to step up and get the team some points.
“Obviously, it’s a little hard playing 40 games last year (with Sarnia) and then not playing as much here, but Mrazek is a world-class goalie and he’s had a great year,” Campbell said. “I think it’s good to give him a little bit of rest coming down the stretch here.”
Indeed it was a good outing for Campbell, who outshone fellow Cambridge product Maxwell in a goaltender’s duel.
Kitchener, playing their third road game in as many days, grabbed a 1-0 lead at 12:48 of the first period, when Tobias Rieder converted a 2-on-1 pass from Michael Catenacci, beating Campbell with a deke to the backhand.
Campbell stood tall the rest of the way, making a key stop off Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Jerry D’Amigo early in the second period, and robbing Landeskog of a sure goal after kicking out a juicy rebound off a Jason Akeson shot.
“Maybe I was squeezing the stick a bit too tight,” said Landeskog. “My linemates did a great job of getting me the puck, but I just couldn’t capitalize.”
Landeskog did put one puck behind Campbell, but officials waved the goal off after ruling it was kicked into the net.
Ryan Martindale tied the game at 1-1 minutes later, nailing a shot off the crossbar and in for his 34th goal of the season at 11:41 of the third.
Officials reviewed the play but the goal stood, setting up Ceci’s overtime heroics.
“I thought it was a good game, an exciting game,” said 67’s coach Chris Byrne.
“Even though it was 1-0 for most of the game, I thought it was a back-and-forth game with a lot of good chances at either end.”
Ottawa hosts another pair of top draft-eligible prospects in Ryan Strome and Dougie Hamilton when the Niagara IceDogs visit on Friday.