67’s Bradley Horner proving worth in playoffs

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Situated about an hour east of TD Place, the little town of Vankleek Hill is known as the “Gingerbread Capital of Ontario” for its finely decorated Victorian brick homes.

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It has also earned a reputation for making good beer (Beau’s) and, now, a versatile, hard-working hockey player.

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There’s no specific award for it, but Bradley Horner deserves consideration as the 67’s MVP in their opening-round series elimination of the Brantford Bulldogs.

Not only did he score three goals — including a pair in Sunday’s clincher — as well as two assists in the six games, but he was also his usual physical presence against the bigger, rougher opponents.

On top of that, Horner was a valuable insurance policy the club rather surprisingly did not need.

The most impressive part of Sunday’s 6-1 victory, in which quality scoring chances for Brantford were few and far between, is that the 67’s were without Matthew Mayich, their 6-foot-2, 200-pound St. Louis Blues prospect who was voted among the top three defensive defenceman in the Eastern Conference coach’s poll.

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This is among the inconsistencies in the Canadian Hockey League: QMJHL players are suspended for fighting, while OHL players get five minutes for beating up an opponent, but a three-game suspension for threatening to do so, which is what Mayich was guilty of in Saturday’s Game 5.

“He’s suspended for an incident he can’t do,” coach Dave Cameron said after Wednesday’s practice. “He’s got two games left.”

That means Mayich will also sit out the first couple of Ottawa’s second-round series games against the top-seeded Generals, which begin with games Friday and Sunday in Oshawa.

In his absence, Cameron is expected to again rotate five defencemen while dressing six — rookie 17-year old Kaleb Dietsch suits up for a good view from the bench — and pull his one true power forward back to his original position in an emergency.

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Otherwise, Horner is “a forward to stay,” Cameron said.

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Defence is the position the versatile, 6-foot, 195-pound, 18-year-old has played his entire life until this season.

“(Cameron) tried me at forward and I guess he liked it,” Horner said of the switch. “The rest is history.”

Asked if he prefers being a winger and the potential to score more goals than playing on the back end, Horner revealed his mindset.

“It’s lots of fun,” he said. “I don’t mind where I’m playing as long as I’m helping the team. I’m enjoying it a lot out there. I like (trying to score), but I take joy in blocking shots and making a first pass. Whatever is helping the team I don’t mind doing.”

Horner, who had no points in 12 games as a rookie D-man with the 67’s last season, scored six times and added nine helpers in 59 games during the 2023-24 campaign.

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His worth to the team was evident after one late-season loss, when Cameron said the problem was he didn’t have enough Horners.

“He’s been an invaluable contributor,” Cameron said this week. “Whatever line he’s on seems to be the best line. He’s competitive, can play the game any way you want it and he’s got a real high hockey IQ. Above all else, from the coaches point of view, he’s low maintenance.”

Being leaned on even more heavily than usual doesn’t bother Henry Mews, Frankie Marrelli, Sam Mayer, Thomas Sirman and Derek Smyth, the five who were fantastic in closing out Brantford.

“It’s a little bit different than than having six ‘D’ and rolling through that, but I think throughout the year we’ve all kind of all played with each other and I think that’s helped,” Sirman said after his stellar Game 6. “We’ve always had more lefties than  righties, so we’ve always had D’s playing their off side. Throughout the year we’ve learned to deal with that.”

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And because he used to play the position, Horner knows defencemen don’t like the stuff he brings to his new job.

“Finishing my checks when they’re not ready and getting pucks behind them … it’s hard to transition when you’re going full  speed at them,” he said. “Just knowing their weaknesses helps.”

The 67’s will need all they can get against the Generals, who finished the regular season on a 12-game winning streak that netted them first place in the conference before having their hands full with the No. 8 seed Barrie Colts in the opening round.

The two biggest obstacles standing in Ottawa’s way to the Eastern final will likely be centre Calum Ritchie, a first-round pick (27th overall) of the Colorado Avalanche who scored 80 points in 50 games this season and 20-year old goalie Jacob Oster, an Ottawa native who had the second best goaltender numbers in the OHL this season and was the best puck stopper in the first round.

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The 67’s did a good job against both this season, as Ottawa won six of eight meetings.

Ritchie, who played all of last season with a damaged shoulder, had just one goal and one assist in six games versus Ottawa in 2023-’24 — although he was just coming off surgery the first couple of games — while in 10 career regular-season games against his hometown team, Oster is 2-5-3 with a 4.03 goals against averages and a .869 save percentage.

When the 67’s eliminated the Generals in a five-game opening-round playoff last season, Oster was 1-4 with a 4.79 GAA and a .873 save percentage.

But after losing 10 of the past 13 meetings over the calendar year, those two players and the rest of the well-coached Generals will be looking for some revenge.

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“They’ve got all the pieces of a good team,” said Cameron, adding the Generals depth and consistency are big reasons for their success. “And they’re competitive. We’re expecting another long series.”

But with their recent record against Oshawa — and the way they handled the Bulldogs — the 67’s are a confident bunch.

“One hundred percent,” Horner said. “(Against) any team in the league. Bring it.”

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