Two Western Conference teams remain as the Erie Otters and the Owen Sound Attack battle for the Wayne Gretzky Trophy to advance to the OHL Finals.
Here’s a look at the upcoming matchup:
ERIE OTTERS (1) vs. OWEN SOUND ATTACK (3) – #ERvsOS
The Erie Otters and Owen Sound Attack have passed through the blazing inferno that is the OHL’s Midwest Division and come out on the other side, both determined to capture the Wayne Gretzky Trophy as Western Conference Champions.
It’s a shame only one of these teams can do so.
On the heels of a well-documented CHL record fourth straight 50-win season, the Otters passed their latest test on Tuesday as Carolina Hurricanes prospect Warren Foegele lifted Erie to overtime glory in a 5-4 Game 7 win over the defending Mastercard Memorial Cup Champion London Knights.
Up next on the long road to the Mastercard Memorial Cup? The Owen Sound Attack.
“We’re facing a really good team here,” acknowledged Otters captain Dylan Strome. “They had the best second half of any team in the league, they’ve got a great offence and a great goaltender. We’re going to have to do everything we did against London and then some if we want to have success against them.”
Believe it or not, it’s the first time Erie and Owen Sound have met in the OHL Playoffs and the Otters will start things out on home ice Friday night.
Entering their fourth straight appearance in the Western Conference Final, Strome knows that the competitive window doesn’t stay open forever in a development league such as this.
“There’s a little bit of extra pressure on us being here for the fourth time,” he affirmed. “I wouldn’t say we’ve underachieved in our past playoff runs. I think the combined record of the teams that have eliminated us in past years (Guelph ’14, Oshawa ’15, London ’16) is 11-1 at the Memorial Cup, so we’ve had to face some pretty good opponents.
“Hopefully this is our year. We’ve been looking forward to it for awhile. We wanted to get back to this spot and go even further.”
Strome, who led all OHL players with 2.14 points-per-game in an abbreviated regular season, has continued his stellar play in the playoffs where he’s recorded 17 points (7-10–17) in 11 games. Teammate Alex DeBrincat leads the OHL Playoffs in scoring with 22 points (6-16–22).
While putting pucks in the net is Erie’s calling card, keeping them out has been a topic of conversation in these playoffs.
Joseph Murdaca claimed a pair of wins in relief of starter Troy Timpano in the London series, including a 17-save performance in Game 7 against London.
Otters head coach Kris Knoblauch has yet to reveal the identity of his starter for Game 1.
“Goaltending is very important no matter what league you’re in if you want to have success in the playoffs,” he noted. “We feel that we have the benefit of having two quality goaltenders that have both had success throughout the season. We will determine later who will start Game 1, but we feel confident in either one of them.”
There’s no question at the other end.
Montreal Canadiens prospect Michael McNiven continues to backstop Owen Sound to success, posting a 1.92 goals-against average and .931 save percentage over 11 playoff contests with an 8-3 record.
“As far as our goaltending goes, we’ve had timely saves from Michael all year and that gives our group the confidence to play a little bit on the edge in terms of taking a chance or a risk here or there,” said Attack second-year head coach Ryan McGill who captured a Memorial Cup title with the WHL’s Kootenay Ice in 2002.
Erie won the Midwest Division for a third straight year and took four of their six meetings against Owen Sound this season, but the Attack managed to best the Otters in several categories during their franchise record-setting season including on the power play (28.4%, 1st) and in the goals against department (177, 1st).
The Otters may have the edge in terms of age and experience, but the Attack come in fresh following four days off compared to Erie’s two.
“I look forward to this series because it’s going to be a hockey series,” McGill continued. “It’s going to be hard-fought, fast-paced and won and lost in the faceoff circle. It’s going to be a hockey series – no gimmicks. Playing hard between the whistles.”
Just as they did in the regular season, Finnish speedster Petrus Palmu (10-6–16) and 2017 NHL Draft prospect Nick Suzuki (7-9–16) continue to lead the charge for the Attack. Overage captain Santino Centorame (3-8–11) has been a frequent sight on the scoresheet along with underrated sophomore Kevin Hancock (6-4–10).
Owen Sound showed a lot of guts overcoming a 2-0 series deficit against Sault Ste. Marie, but they can ill-afford to fall behind two games to Erie.
A strong start will be important for the Attack as they begin their series in one of the OHL’s loudest buildings on Friday and Saturday in the Flagship City.
The Otters look to engrave their four-year run of 100-point dominance with the label of ‘dynasty’ in the annals of OHL history with an OHL Championship.
They’ll have to go through the Owen Sound Attack to get that.
Erie won season series 4-2-0-0
Oct. 21, 2016 – OS 4 @ ER 3 OT (OS: Centorame 2A)
Oct. 22, 2016 – OS 2 @ ER 5 (ER: Pettit 1G, 2A)
Nov. 8, 2016 – OS 1 @ ER 5 (ER: T. Raddysh 2G, 1A)
Dec. 3, 2016 – ER 3 @ OS 2 (ER: Timpano 34 SV)
Dec. 4, 2016 – ER 6 @ OS 1 (ER: Strome 1G, 3A)
Feb. 26, 2017 – ER 2 @ OS 4 (OS: Gadjovich 2G)
This marks the first ever playoff encounter between the Erie Otters and Owen Sound Attack.
Game 1, Fri., April 21 Owen Sound at Erie, 7:00
Game 2, Sat., April 22 Owen Sound at Erie, 7:00
Game 3, Mon., April 24 Erie at Owen Sound, 7:00
Game 4, Wed., April 26 Erie at Owen Sound, 7:00
Game 5, Fri., April 28 Owen Sound at Erie, 7:00*
Game 6, Sun., April 30 Erie at Owen Sound, 2:00*
Game 7, Mon., May 1 Owen Sound at Erie, 7:00*
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