Inside the Locker Room: Erie Otters Finally Getting Healthy

In this week’s edition of Erie Otters’ “Inside the Locker Room”, Dr. Hartsburg updates us with all the latest injury news. There’s finally some good news on the horizon. We also hear from the coach about this past weekend and what they’re focusing on at practice and in their next set of games. We are also joined by forward Austen Swankler as he discusses adjusting to the OHL. Cameron Morton also stops by and we get to know him a little more as he will be thrust into the Otters’ top-six thanks to the injury situation. Here is last week’s edition in case you missed it.

The Week That Was

The Week Ahead

  • vs. Saginaw Friday Oct 4 at 7:00 P.M.
  • vs. Kingston Saturday Oct 5 at 7:00 P.M.

Injury Updates

  • Brendan Kischnick: Lower-body injury suffered in Saturday’s game against Windsor. He is listed as week-to-week. Team still waiting on more information.
  • Noah Sedore: Lower-body injury. He is expected back for this week’s games.
  • Matthew MacDougall: Lower-body injury. Will miss this week’s games. He is listed as day-to-day. No change from last week.
  • Danial Singer: Upper-body injury. Singer skated early today in a no-contact jersey but the team expects he will be ready for this week’s games.
  • Hayden Fowler: Upper-body injury. He suffered this injury last Thursday in Windsor and missed Friday & Saturday as a result. However the team expects him to be ready for Friday vs. Saginaw.
  • Marcus Gillard: No new update. Lower-body injury. Team expects a six-month recovery time if surgery is performed.

Brendan Kischnick is the new add to this week’s injured list. He took the worst of a hit along the wall on Saturday night and couldn’t put any weight on his leg when helped off. Coach Hartsburg said they were waiting on some more information in regards to an exact time frame and prognosis. But he is week-to-week so the injury is severe enough that he will have to miss games. Cameron Morton is expected to play in his place as the sixth defenseman along side Luke Beamish.

But some good news. Noah Sedore, Danial Singer and Hayden Fowler should be ready to go Friday barring any setbacks. Considering Morton played forward on Saturday, this is welcomed news. Unfortunately, Matthew MacDougall is still not ready and will miss the next two at least.

Chris Hartsburg, OHL, Erie Otters
Chris Hartsburg said that Brendan Kischnick will be out week-to-week with a lower body injury. (Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.)

Coach Speak

  • Hartsburg said when the Otters play a certain way, they’re a good hockey team. When they don’t, it showed in the first two games on the road. The key is how much time spent in their own zone. He said the Otters spent too much time in their own end Thursday in Windsor. They also had too many turnovers. This put them back on their heels and took them off their game. Saturday at home they played their style and got the result. Watch the zone time in future games and that’ll tell you if they’re having things do their way or not.
  • On the early focus at practices, Hartsburg said the key is establishing good habits. He watches the work level and compete level of the players to make sure what they’re doing is sustainable. They also focus on their defensive work. He cited analytics and numbers when explaining why this was such a focus. They know it was their downfall and they continue to use practice to improve on this aspect. Specifically, the team has emphasis on getting better at puck management.
  • Hartsburg says that it is imperative that the Otters establish themselves on home ice with seven of their next nine at Erie Insurance Arena. He said it was a good thing that they’re going to get tested a little bit with Saginaw coming in. From those he spoke with, they feel the Spirit is the best team in the OHL. But at the end of the day, the Otters’ focus is on themselves and look forward to seeing how they match up with Saginaw on Friday.
  • Hartsburg on 15-year old Shane Wright: “The thing that sticks out about him is his skating. But it is hard for a 15yo to come in and dominate. We saw that with Connor (McDavid) his first year. It’s important for those kind of players to buy into the process. As long as they wade into it and baby step it, they’re going to enjoy success, but he’s going to be good. He’s a guy that as a chance to lead his team in scoring.” The Otters get their first shot at Wright and Kingston on Saturday.
Chris Hartsburg, OHL, Erie Otters
Hartsburg and the Otters are looking forward to the challenge that Saginaw will present. (Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

Cameron Morton: Come On Down

With injury comes opportunity. Because of Kischnick’s injury, newcomer Cameron Morton will get an extended look in the Otters’ top-six. He obviously impressed in camp beating out former alternate captain Ryan Martin for a roster spot.

So who is Morton? In case you haven’t seen him before, he gives us a glimpse of what we can expect.

“I’m definitely a hard worker. That’s how I earned my spot here,” Morton said. “Last year I went back to major midget and I worked my butt off to get here. I’m not much of a skilled guy. I’m really defensive. I’m a good puck mover. I also throw the body when I have to.”

So what does he have to do to be prepared for what’s coming in a full-time role?

“I definitely have to get myself mentally prepared for games. It’s going to be a big jump from last year with the play coming from major midget. I know the coaches are going to help me a lot in practices, getting me to work hard, helping me understand what I have to do in games to help us win.”

Morton is getting a crash course in what it will take to win. The one thing we know we’ll get is a tireless work ethic. The fans will comes to embrace him in no time.

Cameron Morton, OHL, Erie Otters
Cameron Morton will get top-six minutes on the Otters’ blue line given their injury situation. (Photo courtesy of the OHL)

Austen Swankler’s Adjustment

Not only is Austen Swankler adjusting to a new league, he’s adjusting to a new position. He primarily played wing. With the Otters, he’s learning to become a number-one center.

With five points in his first five games with Erieincluding his first OHL goal, Swankler is off to a nice start but he’s knows there is so much more to learn in becoming a complete player. He spoke with us about his early play and more.

“It’s definitely taken a toll on my body,” Swankler said. “You know, playing three in three this last weekend, trying to get back into the motion of playing everyday. During the week, with practice, get good stretching in, eat the right foods and get enough rest. Especially after games, get the right liquids and food and make sure you are ready for the next day.”

How different are the games in the OHL compared to before? Swankler noted some key differences.

“With London, it was more strategical, looking where the passes are going, finding open ice, stuff like that. As you get older, you have to think more and use your speed in finding lanes and using your body to play the game. The game is getting a lot faster and stronger.”

And the Otters are focused on making Swankler a complete player, not just someone who can get good stats.

“Becoming a center in this league is definitely more difficult. You’re coming back more. You’re helping your defenseman. That was one of the things I struggled with was playing defense, coming back in the zone and getting the puck out. Here in Erie, the coaches are definitely helping me with coming back into the zone and working to help out my D. I’ll have more chances to get points if I learn the defensive side of the game first.”

Hartsburg offered his early assessment of how Swankler has handled things.

“From a skills standpoint, it’s been a relatively easy adjustment for him just because he’s a talented player. But you have to learn the consistency of being a complete player. It’s something he really hasn’t had a whole lot of. Those kids (in midget) can get by on those numbers and the skill set. Once you get to the higher level, you have to add elements to your game. Right now, Austen is playing center where he didn’t play really at all last year. It’s making sure details of being a centerman are there especially in your own end. For him, it’s consistently working and skating. He’s working and there’s no fear in his game. But when he’s not around the puck, he’s working to get into that five-foot radius as opposed to that 10-15 foot area.”

Austen Swankler, OHL, Erie Otters
The Otters are trying to make Austen Swankler a more complete player. (Photo courtesy of the Erie Otters)

Final Thoughts

Getting Sedore, Singer and Fowler back comes at a perfect time for the team with the Saginaw showdown coming Friday. This will be Sedore’s season debut. Singer and Fowler should resume playing in their top-six roles.

As for the goalies, Hartsburg usually doesn’t divulge that during the week. But given the way Daniel Murphy has started the year, it’s not out of the question for him to get both games. I’d expect he start Friday vs. Saginaw and we’ll see where it goes.