Previewing the OHL Season With Otters’ Head Coach B.J. Adams

The Erie Otters enter the 2022-23 season with both a different look and higher expectations. Thanks to some key moves made during the offseason, there is an excitement about where the Otters could be heading.

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The Otters open their 2022-23 season Thursday night in Peterborough. They play their first four games on the road before hosting their home opener on Oct 8 against their rival the London Knights.

Head coach B.J. Adams stopped by and talked with the Hockey Writers about the upcoming season and more. In this wide ranging conversation, Adams explains why he is excited for this team and why the preseason was a success in his eyes. Then we shift our focus to team identity and dealing with higher expectations after missing out on the playoffs in 2021-22.

Here is our conversation.

Q&A With B.J. Adams

The Hockey Writers: Coach, this is your first full season behind the Otters’ bench. This allows you to have a full training camp and preseason. What things did you prioritize throughout camp and the preseason?

Adams: “I wanted to have a really competitive camp within ourselves before we played exhibition games. I thought the guys really responded to that as far as how hard guys competed on pucks and on bodies. That’s always going to be the staple of how we play games. The standard is non-negotiable. I just wanted to make sure that we were going right from the start and we weren’t just trying to ease our way into the season.”

B.J. Adams, Erie Otters, OHL
B.J. Adams says the standard is for his teams to be hard to play against. (Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

THW: The preseason has come and gone. This included a big comeback from being down 6-1 against London. What things stood out to you in a good way during the preseason?

Adams: “I liked how Marshall Nicholls got better. I liked Sam Alfano up front who gives us a different look up front that we were probably missing for a while. We had a couple of guys banged up so they weren’t able to get into games early. Elias Cohen is skating really well. Brett Bessette is in really good shape. We challenged him to get into better shape and he did. We should see a little more bite to his game.”

“The evolution of Christian Kyrou, Spencer Sova and Cameron Morton on the backend. They’ve been really good with our young guys. All the backend guys with the experience they got last year is huge coming back this year for us. To go from not having many games to everyone having games under their belt (is big.) You have a guy like Owain Johnston who we think can be a key piece on our backend here moving forward.”

“Then you have the addition of Malcolm Spence. He’s just gotten better every single day. He’s going to be a special player in this league. He needs to get used to playing at this level consistently. Kaleb Smith has come back bigger and stronger and looks like a big power forward. (Noah) Sedore is Sedore still and is working his tail off and using his speed and hockey sense. Carey Terrance is stronger now on his skates. He’s going to be tough to handle. We’re excited with what Nolan (Lalonde) did (in Pittsburgh for the Blue Jackets). That was great for him. I’m excited for Nolan to get that opportunity there.  There’s a lot to like about our group moving forward. We’re excited.”

Goaltending Situation

THW: You mentioned Lalonde’s performance in Pittsburgh and then the evolution of Nicholls. What does having both of them on top of their game do for the confidence of your team?

Adams: “Even with Nicholls last year, he got a cut on his hand. That’s where his season changed. He’s played really well in the preseason. He’s made the saves he’s supposed to make. That’s all we want him to do. Having Lalonde back will be big. He got an opportunity at Pittsburgh’s development camp and now in Columbus. He’s played well at both of those camps from the reports we’ve gotten. Both guys should have confidence and that should feed into the rest of our team.”

Big Trade

THW: Your team made a pretty significant trade when you acquired Sam Alfano in exchange for Connor Lockhart. What does Alfano bring to the table and what will this trade allow your team to do moving forward?

Adams: “We can play a more versatile game. We’re a fast hockey team. We’re not the heaviest team to play against. I’m not saying just adding Sam is that guy, but guys got bigger and stronger too. Now we can play multiple ways in games where we’re playing against teams who are bigger and heavier. We can play that way if we need to. We’re still going to do what we need to do. Now it gives us an opportunity to be more versatile on those games.”

Malcolm Spence Show

THW: The obvious excitement seems to be around Malcolm Spence. Many believe that he will be a superstar someday in the OHL. What expectations do you have for him and what advice have you given him at the start while he’s still learning the league?

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Adams: “He’s got a lot of swagger and it’s a great swagger. He’s not cocky. He’s got a lot of confidence in his game. I want him to do what he does best. That’s the message to him. Don’t be afraid to be great no matter how old you are out here. He will have learning curves like all first-year guys have in this league. Just go out and be you and do your thing. Don’t worry about who you’re going against. Everyday he’s getting better. He’s learning. We’re excited for him.”

Establishing an Identity

THW: Your team was able to bring back a familiar voice behind the bench in Wes Wolfe. What does it mean to have him back in the fold?

Adams: “Wes brings a little bit different dynamic with our staff. We’re familiar with each other. We enjoy working with each other much like Vince (Laise) and I do. He fits well with his personality and with our group. Besides being a good hockey guy, he’s always a positive guy to be around and it’s very infectious.”

Wes Wolfe, Erie Otters, OHL
Adams is excited to have Wes Wolfe back on the Otters’ bench. (Photo credit: OHL)

THW: A big thing for any hockey team is their identity. Coming into the new season when fans are watching your team play, what can they expect to see on the ice from a team identity perspective?

Adams: “We want to be a fast team that maintains possession of the puck. We want to create scoring chances. And we want to be hard to defend. We are going to be in battles and we are going to compete. We’re going to be a little more offensive minded than we were last year because we have had more time to implement things given how last season went. I’ve liked the progress we’ve made with it. We’re going to be responsible in all areas of the game.”

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THW: Finally for now, the Otters seem like they’re ready to ascend. That comes with higher expectations. How do you manage expectations with your team knowing more will be expected from you?

Adams: “We’re just worried about getting better everyday. Where we end up is where we’ll end up. There’s a lot of things throughout the season that can change the course of it in terms of injuries. You just don’t know how it’s all going to unfold. Our focus is just to get better everyday. Every time we come to the rink, every time we come to the weight room, every time we’re going on the ice, how do we improve individually and collectively as a group? Do we want to make the playoffs? Yes. Do we want to win a championship? Of course. But those are going to be the results of how we prepare and get better every day.”

With the additions of Alfano and newcomer Liam Gilmartin, these Otters will have a different look and feel to them. Couple that with the addition of Spence and you have a team ready to make an impact. We thank coach Adams for his time in speaking with us.

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