They led the OHL with 319 goals this past season but the Erie Otters have emphasized a commitment to defence through it all, and it showed on Thursday.
The Otters limited the Eastern Conference champion Mississauga Steelheads to 14 shots, ending their eight game winning streak with a 2-1 home ice win in Game 1 of the Rogers OHL Championship Series.
Carolina Hurricanes prospect Warren Foegele (9) and Arizona Coyotes prospect Dylan Strome (12) provided the Otters with all the offence they’d need before a big crowd of 5,087 at Erie Insurance Arena.
“I thought everybody was committed to playing good defence,” said Otters head coach Kris Knoblauch. “The Cirelli line is so dependable and so is Strome, Pettit and Poddubnyi’s line – all four of them, and that’s the way we want to play.”
A scoreless first period saw the Otters outshoot Mississauga 6-0 in the opening half of the frame as goaltender Matthew Mancina, who has earned back-to-back Vaughn CHL Goaltender of the Week honours, turned aside all 10 shots he faced.
Erie broke through in the second though.
Foegele cut in off the wing, powering his way to the net to tuck a forehand deke past the outstretched pad of Mancina at 5:38 as linemate Anthony Cirelli gathered an assist on the tally.
“I think we just had to focus on our defensive game and coach has really pressed that on us,” said the goal-scorer Foegele post-game. “Good defence will lead to chances offensively and that happened tonight.”
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Mancina flashed the leather on Dylan Strome moments later, but couldn’t stop him with 5:15 left in the frame as Darren Raddysh found the Otters captain low in the zone. Strome out-waited Mancina in alone, tucking the puck around the overage netminder to make the score 2-0.
The Otters held the Steelheads at bay early in the third before the Trout broke their offensive silence late as overage blueliner Stefan LeBlanc buried a shot from the high slot with 2:35 remaining in regulation.
The late marker wouldn’t be enough though as the Otters held on for a 2-1 victory, ending Mississauga’s 8-0 playoff run on the road.
Erie goaltender Troy Timpano didn’t face a heavy workload, but answered the call when needed with 13 saves on the night.
“I thought the play in front of him was really good where we held them to 14 shots, but we did have some breakdowns and Troy came up big,” said Knoblauch of Timpano’s performance.
Both clubs went 0-for-3 on the man advantage in a clean, free-flowing matchup.
The series continues on Sunday afternoon back in Erie when the puck drops at 4:00pm.