As far as regular season performance is concerned, the Erie Otters have been the CHL’s most consistent club over the past three seasons.
With marquee names such as Connor Brown, Connor McDavid and Dylan Strome coming through the program, the Otters have become the first team in OHL history to put together three consecutive 50-win seasons.
Don’t look now, but a fourth might be on the horizon.
Off to a 10-3-1-0 start with wins in nine of their last 10 headed into Wednesday, the Otters haven’t skipped a beat despite the absence of captain Dylan Strome.
Back-to-back 50-goal scorer Alex DeBrincat has stepped into the spotlight, scoring 12 goals through his first 12 games.
“You always want to be a guy who can be relied upon in all situations to help your team win, and I feel like I’ve had the opportunity to learn from some of the best in (Connor) McDavid and (Dylan) Strome over the past two seasons,” said DeBrincat, a second round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks this past summer. “There’s definitely a winning culture in place here.”
DeBrincat, who became the first player in Otters history to register back-to-back 50-goal seasons last year, credits his goal scoring prowess to hours of practice and hard work.
“I spent a lot of time in the basement shooting pucks as a kid,” he said with a laugh. “The year before I came to the OHL I worked on it a lot. I don’t have the hardest shot, but I’ve worked really hard at getting the puck away quickly. Goaltenders have a hard time when they can’t get set and into position.”
DeBrincat isn’t the only offensive weapon the Otters have to offer.
Tampa Bay Lightning prospect Taylor Raddysh was recently named the OHL’s Player of the Month for October. The 18-year-old winger leads the OHL in scoring with 11 goals, 17 assists and 28 points over 12 games.
With rookie Allan McShane away at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, DeBrincat as seen time down the middle with Raddysh and playmaker Kyle Maksimovich on his flanks.
Draft eligible forward Ivan Lodnia, sophomore Brett Neumann and two-way centreman Kyle Pettit have also been valuable contributors with the Otters this season.
Perhaps the biggest concern in Erie heading into the new season came in the crease. The graduation of five-year veteran Devin Williams left big question marks, but those have quickly been answered as offseason acquisition Troy Timpano was recently named the OHL’s Goaltender of the Month for October.
The soon-to-be 19-year-old former second round OHL draft pick went 8-0-0-0 in his eight starts with a 1.88 goals-against average, a .931 save percentage and two shutouts.
“His numbers say it all,” DeBrincat said of Timpano’s performance. “He’s really confident in the net and I think a change of scenery has done him well. It’s been a nice fit for us and a good change for him.”
Though Erie’s feats have been impressive, they still haven’t nailed down that ever-elusive OHL Championship over the three-year run. The last Otters club to hoist the J. Ross Robertson Cup was the 2002 squad led by franchise scoring leader Brad Boyes.
Though it remains to be seen if Strome will return from Arizona, the Otters are in good hands with DeBrincat, Taylor and Darren Raddysh, Lodnia, Timpano and several others forming a solid core under head coach Kris Knoblauch.
Playing in arguably the toughest division in the Canadian Hockey League with the likes of London, Kitchener, Owen Sound and Guelph, the Otters have appreciated the steady presence of Knoblauch behind the bench.
The coach of the 2011 WHL Champion Kootenay Ice will serve as an assistant coach with the Canadian National Junior Team this December.
“Sometimes you can play poorly and still win games, and I think that’s where coach Knoblauch is so good with pointing out the little things that are going to help us have success and stay away from bad habits,” said DeBrincat. “Learning from him these past few years has been huge for me. He’s a big reason why we have the winning tradition we do here in Erie.”
The Otters look to keep climbing the weekly CHL Top 10 Rankings with matchups against the Mississauga Steelheads and Kitchener Rangers this weekend.
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