Welcome to part three of our preseason Erie Otters Q & A series. In case you missed our first two entries, you can read our chat with head coach Chris Hartsburg here and draft eligible Hayden Fowler here.
It’s been a long two years in Erie since they won the OHL championship. Roster turnover coupled with a new coach trying to implement their system meant for an adjustment period. Add the fact that the draft cupboards were super empty. It equates to missing the playoffs two straight seasons.
But there is hope. More importantly, there is a plan. The Otters put a plan in place to get back to the good days, even if it took longer than many fans wanted. Is this the year the Otters break back into the glory days?
General manager Dave Brown was kind enough to sit down with the Hockey Writers to discuss the state of the Otters they begin the 2019-20 season. We talk a wide variety of topics, including preseason takeaways, leadership, goaltending, analytics, organizational changes and why he feels this team will be exciting to watch.
Q & A With Dave Brown
THW: Dave, your team enjoyed a good preseason. You will have some decisions to make on your roster. What will be the biggest things you are looking for when deciding who makes the cut?
Dave Brown: “We’re going to take into account the exhibition series, but we’re also going to take into account, we’re going to project our lineup a little bit. We’re also going to try to fill things that we think we need to get better at. We’re going to make the team better. We’re going to have a much better idea by the end of Tuesday or Wednesday of what we’re going to do. We’re going to sit and have meetings and talk about our team. I have an idea of where I want to go with the team and how different guys fit into different roles. There’s some guys that have had extremely good training camps and good summers and will probably be rewarded for it.”
THW: Brendan Sellan, Brendan Hoffman have had great preseasons. Who else has stood out to you that maybe has gone a little under the radar?
Brown: “Daniel D’Amato was one of those three guys that played on that line (with Hoffmann and Sellan). Those three guys have had exceptional training camps and exhibition series. I’d have to look pretty hard to see a guy we weren’t happy with. I don’t think there’s any one guy that you can say that had a bad camp. Aidan Campbell went through an adjustment period and looked really good. I felt Murph (Daniel Murphy) was really good in his training camp. I thought the defense all showed very well. You have guys that play hard, it makes for difficult decisions on our end and that’s when you know you are getting better. Your results will probably be similar to what you want them to be.”
THW: Chad Yetman was recently returned to the Otters from Red Wings’ camp. Can you speak to just how far he’s come along in his career/leadership in Erie?
Brown: “I think it’s patience. If you’re patient through the development process as an organization and as a player, you will get rewarded. I think Chad is a great example of a guy who I want to say there was probably 10-11 straight games where he didn’t start a game and his brother’s team is down for a development skate and a meet and greet with the team. That was going on Chad’s 12th day where he didn’t play. I don’t think he’s come out of the lineup since. He’s matured. He’s made strides to be a better person and a better leader. He’s read several books that we talk about in leadership. He’s made a concentrated effort to become better. It all points back to patience. We’re proud of Chad for what’s he’s persevered through and where he goes from here.”
THW: Talk about the impact that Shane Clifford has had since coming to the Otters on the goalies?
Brown: “Shane would probably be the first to tell you that he’s a relationship guy. One of the things that was important to him was how he was going to fit within the organization right away. I think he would tell you that’s something that happened almost immediately. He gives the guys a lot of feedback. They know they can call him whenever they need him. He spends quite a bit of time with us. He’ll be in to work with the guys again this week. I think Shane has done a great job of getting us to where we are today with our goalies and giving us direction. I can’t say enough good things about him. The goalies trust him and that’s what’s important.”
THW: The Otters, as well as others, have really embraced analytics. How have they helped you in your decision-making to get you to where you’re at today?
Brown: “We probably do more analytics than anybody in the Ontario Hockey League I would think. There’s some teams that do some work with us. Dan McKeen is our analytic analyst. He works with Stathletes who is the official stat provider of the NHL. They do at least 10 different NHL teams. We have a lamborghini and we drive it like a Hyundai. Everyday we work a little harder to find out how better to use those numbers. I think every decision we make we look to those. I think it’s a situation where if we were to speak to Dan, we’d say this is what we’re thinking. How does this fit with our decision? Do the numbers work? We’re not making decisions solely based on numbers. We’re making them based on the fact that you know what, this is what we see, this is how we feel. Do these numbers jive with what we’re seeing? If what we see and what we think matches the number, I think we can make an educated decision based on that. The other thing too is that we use analytics to help our players understand better where they have to be on the ice, getting to the right area. Analytics is a big part of al sport right now. Teams would be silly to overlook the power of them. We’ll get the game reports from the last two exhibition games and we’ll make decisions based on what we see, kind of the flavor of how the games have gone and also what the reports say. It’s pretty interesting stuff when you sit and break it down. We have enough background now where we can look back 2-3 years. We took on a much larger role following our championship year.”
THW: You are always looking to improve the team even in the smallest areas. What changes, if any, did you make to the team or to the thinking moving forward?
Brown: “We added more guys with a lot more pace. That’s one of the takeaways from this past weekend (against London). I thought our defense played a heavy game. I think when Drysdale took the game to another level with his ability to ramp up the offense. I thought Duffer (Jack Duff), Kisch (Brendan Kischnick), Morty (Cameron Morton) and Kurt (Kurtis Henry) played heavy, so if you want to come in and earn some ice, there’s going to be a price to pay. I’m going to keep talking about patience and maturity. It’s taking time. Nothing good happens overnight. If it was easy, we’d all be really good. We’re a team that can skate. I don’t think we have any guys that don’t get around quickly. The style of game we want to play, if everyone is working and buying in, we can make it really uncomfortable for our opponents.”
THW: The league adopted some rules changes for the 2019-20 season including coach’s challenges and penalty reviews. What are your overall thoughts on the changes?
Brown: “I think anytime that we can make sure that calls are correct and called in the right manner, for instance being able to review if it was a four or a major, I think that’s important. I think it’s hard for officials to keep up. We’re going to have to remember there’s human error. If you can take a second to reflect and review it, that’s good. During a game, I’ll go over to video and say, ‘Oh that was a penalty, let me take a look at it but on second look that wasn’t a penalty.’ If we take the emotion and human error elements out of it, the right call is going to be made more often than not. The OHL and Junior Hockey is exciting because we make errors. It’s a step in the right direction. There will be some growing pains with it. By the time playoffs get here, teams will have a better handle of it and how they want to pursue it and execute the coaches’ challenge.”
THW: And finally, why will the Erie Otters be exciting this season?
Brown: “It will be our team effort. We’re going to hunt teams down instead of being hunted. I think the last couple of years we were hunted. Teams came in looking to get their points. I think now we’re going to be on the hunt for our points. I think there will be a dramatic difference between the last two years and now. We understand we need to be better. I saw something on Twitter saying Hayden Fowler is tired of losing (thanks for reading Dave!!) and we are. All of us have a lot of pride. And contrary to the belief of some people where (they think) we’re trying to lose. I’m one guy I (expletive) hate to lose. We’re not looking for a quick fix. When we do get this thing moving on the right track, and I believe we’re there, we’re going to be there for a long time.”
Brown and the Otters like the direction they’re going. They open their season Friday night against the Sudbury Wolves at Erie Insurance Arena. We thank Dave Brown for his time in discussing the state of the team.