By Terry Doyle
Patience is a virtue with the Erie Otters this season. The Midwest Division club has gone through a rough first-half of the 2011-12 Ontario Hockey League campaign. But the Otters hope a youth movement will pay dividends down the road. The Erie roster features 13 skaters born in 1994 or 1995.
Last weekend, the Otters split a three-game road trip, upsetting the Sarnia Sting before picking up one point in an overtime loss in Windsor. It’s hoped these are steps towards better things to come with the OHL’s only Pennsylvania franchise.
“We've been working hard every day in practice and we're getting pretty close as a group and we're starting to click now,” said Jake Evans, Erie’s second round pick in the 2011 OHL Priority Selection. “We're starting to score some goals and starting to make some plays out there.”
Coming into the final weekend before the holiday break, Erie had three players among the top 20 in OHL rookie scoring leaders. Connor Brown, 17, had 21 points while Stephen Harper, 16, had put up 12 goals and 15 points while Travis Wood, who just turned 16 in late November, had 12 points to round out the top 20.
All of those players have spent the first half adjusting to the Ontario Hockey League game.
“It's definitely a big step from minor midget. I've got to cope with the bigger guys and work a lot harder out here,” explained Evans.
The youngsters are learning the OHL from a group of veterans led by Toronto Maple Leafs draft choice Greg McKegg, the team captain. The team’s overage players are also taking on a leadership role.
“It's a tough league and you have to go out and give your all,” said OA defenceman Derek Holden. “We're just trying to make the rookies follow our lead and hopefully they do.”
Players like Holden will be too old to play in the OHL by the time the Otters youth blossoms into regulars in the league. But despite the team’s record, every player has something to play for – as it may impact a future career.
“When the team’s not doing too well, you really have to bear down harder than you do when things are going well,” added Holden. “You never know who is watching, could be (CIS) schools, NHL teams, teams in Europe, you never know so you have to give it your all every night.”
It’s often said in hockey that it is harder to win after Christmas. The Otters intend to make it as difficult as possible for their opponents right into the spring.