Erie Otters Weekly: Nolan Lalonde Earns NHL Contract

The OHL regular season is back underway. For the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, things have a normal feel to the start of the season.

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With that in mind, it’s time to restart our weekly feature on the Erie Otters. This season, it will be called Erie Otters Weekly. On Thursday mornings or thereabouts, we will talk all things Otters including a look back to last week’s games, a look ahead to what’s next and a significant story surrounding the team.

Erie Otters, Inside the Locker Room

You will hear from different players as well as coaches and management throughout the season. Today, goaltender Nolan Lalonde stopped by to discuss becoming the proud owner of an entry-level contract. Then GM Dave Brown discusses the tough start to the season and looks ahead to the excitement of the home opener and what’s to come this season.

Lalonde Earns NHL Contract

After playing the equivalent of a full NHL game over two nights, Lalonde was sitting at his hotel when he got a phone call. This was after his first half shutout in St. Louis.

“The next day my phone rang. I was sitting around in the hotel room,” Lalonde recalled. “It was my agent. I thought I was going home (to Erie) if I’m being honest with you. He asked me what they were saying. I said I had a chat with Manny (Legace). He said he was pretty happy with my game. Then (my agent) said that’s good because they just offered you an NHL contract. My actual words to him were you’re joking.”

According to Lalonde, reality of signing his first NHL contract hasn’t fully sunk in yet.

“Incredible. I don’t have words yet. It was unbelievable at that point. It was so exciting getting to call my family and telling them I was offered my first NHL contract. It was a really special moment. It’s definitely something I’ll never forget.”

Nolan Lalonde Erie Otters
Nolan Lalonde earned an NHL contract on a tryout with the Blue Jackets. (Photo by Natalie Shaver/OHL Images)

Lalonde was draft eligible at this past draft in Montreal but did not hear his name called. Despite this, he was invited to Pittsburgh Penguins’ development camp. Then he received an invite to Columbus Blue Jackets’ training camp. At each stop, Lalonde showed what he was capable of. He used the summer to get better and it paid off in the best way possible.

“It was a lot of skating, a lot of working on little things,” Lalonde said. “For me, one of the big things was limiting direct shot goals. That was something I worked on with my goalie coach. Jet Greaves and I skated a lot together this summer. I got to learn a lot from him. I’m not trying to be perfect. I’m trying to limit goals that would hurt our team and trying to get better in every little area, especially off the ice. I’ve worked on my fitness, my strength and my speed. It was a pretty big summer for me. I’m obviously really happy that it paid off.”

Lalonde’s attention now turns to the Otters’ season ahead. He is expected to be their number-one goalie in an effort to help them return to the playoffs. The Blue Jackets had one simple message for him upon his return to Erie.

“Just worry about playing your game. You don’t have to worry about the draft anymore.”

Lalonde is excited to be back in Erie. He is excited about the upcoming season and what the Otters could do.

“I’m super excited for the season. We have an incredible group of guys on and off the ice which I think will lead to a lot of success for us. We have a goal of making the playoffs. Not only that but do some damage in them as well. We’re trying to win a championship here. It’s well overdue to see some playoff hockey in Erie. Our fans deserve that. The guys that have been on our team for a long time, we owe it to them to get back into the playoffs. We’ll try to do something pretty special this year.”

Lalonde should make his season debut this upcoming weekend. Now he can just focus on playing hockey and helping the Otters achieve their goals. The disappointment of not hearing his name called at the draft is long gone.

A Tough Start to the Season

The Otters started their new season with three games in four days in the Eastern Conference. They have no wins to show for it.

The Otters lost their season opener 5-4 in a shootout after having a two-goal lead in the third period. They then went to Kingston and lost 3-1 on a great goaltending performance by Ivan Zhigalov. Finally on Sunday in Ottawa, the Otters fell short by a 4-2 score. Rookie Malcolm Spence scored his first goal as an Otter.

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This road trip was as tough a start to a season as anyone can have being the opposition for multiple home openers. According to GM Dave Brown, not having their full team for practices had an impact.

“I thought our first two games I felt we played pretty well,” Brown said. “The game Sunday in Ottawa was probably the worst game of the nine games that we’ve played together this year. That was clearly our worst period (first period.) It’s never easy to go into somebody’s building on opening night, go through the introductions. We had three of them. But it’s done and out of the way now. We’re looking to be better now.”

Dave Brown, OHL, Erie Otters
GM Dave Brown thought the Otters had some good moments in their first two games. (Photo courtesy of the OHL)

“(Spencer) Sova, (Christian) Kyrou, we acquired Liam Gilmartin and then had Sam (Alfano) all return on Tuesday only to leave Wednesday morning so their first practice was in Kingston. We skated in Kingston Wednesday night. It’s not easy but other teams do the same thing.”

Looking Ahead to the Home Opener

After playing Friday in Mississauga, the Otters open their home schedule by welcoming the rival London Knights to Erie Insurance Arena. Playing at home will carry an extra level of excitement for this team after having to go through last season wondering if teams would be able to make it to Erie given the pandemic and potential issues surrounding crossing the border. Brown says the team can’t wait to get things going.

“We’re in a situation that every game is super important. I’m excited to have our full group together. I think this weekend is going to be good. We’re going to get home and get into a normal routine. We had players on our team when we talked to them (admit things were different.) Sam Alfano has never been on a road trip like the one we just went through. So it’s all new. So getting home and getting into a routine we are excited for that.”

“We have a long ways ahead of us. I think a lot of people doubt us. It’s just easier to see you do poorly than to see you succeed. We’re doing a lot of work behind the scenes to make sure that we’re staying ahead of the curve.”

Related: Previewing the Erie Otters Season With B.J. Adams

Saturday night with the Knights in town will provide an electric atmosphere for Erie Insurance Arena and will give the Otters a chance to finally get settled in after a busy start to their season.

The game on Saturday night starts at 7 P.M. Before the game, the Otters are hosting Fan Fest. Three up and coming stars in country music in Alexandra Kay, Hannah Ellis and Royale Lynn will perform that afternoon. The festivities and music will start at 3 P.M on the front lawn of the arena.

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