For the first time in 594 days on Saturday night, the Erie Otters will play a regular season OHL game at Erie Insurance Arena. As you might imagine, the team and their fans are very excited that hockey is back in northwest Pennsylvania.
The last home game for the Otters was back on Mar 8, 2020. They lost a 4-3 decision to the Saginaw Spirit. To give you some perspective on just how much things have changed, this was the game Cole Perfetti had 1-2-3 in the second period alone after the Spirit trailed 1-0 after one. Perfetti of course is now in the Winnipeg Jets organization.
The three Otters’ goal scorers were Brendan Sellan (now one of the captains), Chad Yetman and Hayden Fowler, both of whom are gone.
Much has changed since that last regular season game. But one thing remains the same. Otters fans are super excited to finally have hockey to watch on home ice.
Let The Fans Tell You
We took to social media on Friday to get a gauge of how excited the fans are. We were curious to see if the same level of excitement was there after so much time off. Did the effects of the pandemic have an influence on them? Based on the responses we got, it was overwhelmingly positive and exciting.
Here is a sample of what fans said.
- “Very excited. Finally we got hockey!” -Faye Langdon Descamps
- “I just hope I can remember to make right turns and not left. It’s been a long time.” -Mike Brennan (Author’s note: Me too, Mike. Me too. I just might ask for a tour of the arena pregame.)
- “Between COVID and illness it’s been too long. We now have something great to look forward to. Let’s go Otters! We can’t wait.” -Wanda Schmid
- “I mean….considering it’s the first Otters home game since the beginning of 2020…VERY!!! Let’s go Otters!” -Ian Varish
- “I didn’t realize how (many) friends and acquaintances I’ve made through hockey. There are a lot of people I haven’t seen in over year that I’m excited to see…on top of the game and tailgate.” -Mike Pettinato (Author’s note: Some of my best friends today I’ve met through hockey. It’s amazing how the sport can influence your life no matter your role.)
- “This is not just about going to a game. It is about being with my hockey family again. So many faces I have not seen in nearly 600 days. The boys have grown up with some in their last year as an Otter. New faces to watch. Just so much to look forward to.” -Sara Reilly Snidarich
- “I am an usher at the arena and generally assigned at the team entry ice door. Really looking forward to seeing the 2020/21 Otters edition go through the tunnel for the first time in what seems like forever!!” -Michael Corner (Author’s note: Ushers do not get the credit they deserve. Thank you for your service at the games, Michael.)
- “It’s kind of unbelievable. It won’t hit me until I walk through the door. It’s weird to think of how much we have missed…the fun, the friends, the players who have moved on, the activity through the winter. Is it Saturday yet??” -Denise Strohmeyer
- “Hard to believe it’s been 25 years, but still get excited for the home opener! Bring on the poutine fries! Go Otters!” -Marty Garner (Author’s note: Save some poutine for me please, Marty.)
- “I just want to bark during who let the dogs out.” -Preston Dillemuth (Author’s note: Who? who? who? who? who?)
- “We finally bought season tickets because we don’t want to miss a single home game.” -Pam Skrzypczak
- “I’m excited to be back in EIA. The team looks great this year.” -Jaiden Howland
- “Our seats are behind our boys near where they exit the ice. I love getting to see them, hearing their chatter, and seeing them grow throughout the year. I’ll be right there yelling and rooting them on no matter how the play! That is a true fan!!” -Marcie Coward
- “Saturday won’t be my first Otters game of the season as I made a road trip to Flint and Saginaw, but I’ll be there on Saturday and I’m excited about it. It will be great to be in the EIA for an Otters’ game. I’ll be happy to see my hockey friends and to enjoy the great atmosphere of an Otters hockey game in the EIA. I had my doubts about there being a season, but I’m GLAD that I have been proven wrong, even though I feel, most likely, road trips to Canada won’t happen.” -Terry Wirick
- “We have missed hockey so much we became billets this year! We caught some pre-season games and it made us realize just how much we have missed hockey in Erie!” -Brandon Chabola (Author’s note: Like ushers, billet families do not get enough credit. Thank you for what you are doing to positively impact hockey.)
- “It’s super exciting this will be the first season that I’m a season ticket holder.” -Adrian Eckels
- “Being at some tournament play and some preseason games was fun and all. But something special about the crowd and the play of the team when it counts. Should be an energy filled house on Saturday night.” -@ErieHockey1026
- “Super excited for live Otters’ hockey in Erie again!! Can hardly wait!! I know we will be cheering our Otters on. Pre-season was fun and I know I’m excited for more.” -Catherine McElhinny
- “I’m really excited since I won four tickets to the home opener! I had the 10 game package already bought but I can use those tickets for another game now!” -@GarnerMarty (Author’s note: I still to this day haven’t won anything like that in my life.)
I think by now you see the overwhelming excitement that’s here. It goes beyond the game itself as friends, families and others reconnect with each other after a year and a half away. As you can imagine, the team is excited to be home too.
Setting the Scene
The Otters played their first four games on the road in Michigan going 1-3 on the trip. Despite their record, they played well in stretches and were in most every game. But whether it was a crucial mistake or not being able to get that tying goal, there were some frustrating moments.
Head coach Chris Hartsburg said this week that their issues are correctable. But the one prevailing question is who will step up in goal scoring? The Otters scored just seven goals in their first four games. To their credit, they’ve allowed just 10 goals in that same stretch which has kept them in games.
However if there’s one thing that needs to get going, it is their power play. They are 3/17 in the early going but it is the kind of chances they’ve had that makes this a need to improve. Both game-winning goals in Flint were scored against them while they were up a man. They’ve also been up two men and haven’t scored in key moments. For a team trying to find scoring, this area must improve.
In terms of injuries, Hartsburg said the Otters are banged up. There will be 12 forwards and six defensemen in Saturday’s game. But some players are questionable with injuries. They play the Spirit on Saturday night and then Sunday afternoon.
What Really Matters Now
With all of the above said, what really matters is that hockey is back in Erie. There’s a sense of normalcy returning that the team and their fans have been waiting a long time for.
Saturday night isn’t just about a hockey game. It’s a celebration of what makes the relationship between a team and their fans special. After everything the world has been through in the last 594 days, it’s a relationship nobody takes for granted anymore.
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Normalcy as we knew it was ripped away. But thanks to everyone just doing their part, that normalcy is slowly starting to return. Once the puck drops, the players will play and the fans will scream and yell. But let’s not forget the road we took to get to today.
The Otters are ready. The fans couldn’t be more excited. For the first time in 594 days, it’s a hockey night in Erie. Congratulations gang. You’ve all made it.
I am a fully credentialed writer who covers the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Monsters and Erie Otters as well as the Ontario Hockey League and NHL Draft. The 2022-23 season will mark nine seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.