In this week’s edition of “Inside the Locker Room”, Otters head coach Chris Hartsburg stops by to give us his thoughts on their split last weekend, injury updates and a peek ahead to the games against Hamilton and Guelph. In addition, Noah Sedore talks about his recovery from an ankle injury and being back to 100%. Finally, Brendan Hoffmann discussed how nice it was to be recognized on the Central Scouting Players to Watch list. Here was last week’s in case you missed it.
The Week That Was
The Week Ahead
- vs. Hamilton Friday Oct 11 at 7:00 P.M.
- vs. Guelph Saturday Oct 12 at 7:00 P.M.
- Brendan Kischnick: Week-to-week, lower-body injury.
- Matthew MacDougall: Day-to-day, lower-body injury. Expected to start skating soon.
- Maxim Golod: Was ill Tuesday and missed practice. Should be good for the weekend.
- Marcus Gillard: No change. Surgery is expected.
Golod is the new addition on here, but it’s nothing to worry about at least right now. He missed practice Tuesday due to an illness. Hartsburg expects that he’ll play this weekend. The other three are status quo from last week.
The theme from Hartsburg this week was consistency. The team experienced some lows (their loss to Saginaw) and then some highs (a good effort and win against Kinsgton.) Hartsburg wants to see more of what happened against Kingston moving forward.
The Saginaw game turned into too much of a track meet for the coach’s liking.
“I think we made it easy on them,” Hartsburg said. “The track meet side of it was certainly something we didn’t want. We didn’t have good gaps and our forwards didn’t do a good enough job of getting back to pucks. Expected goals was higher than what we finished with, which points to a lack of finish, and their goalie played well. That wasn’t our game either. We had a decent first. But then they upped the pace and tempo. We wanted to stay at the same pace. Unfortunately it came back to bite us there.”
But then Saturday was much better for the Otters.
“We didn’t give them much easy ice. That was our challenge to them. We have to play a harder game. We need to make sure we’re skating and getting engaged in stuff. The physicality was much better on Saturday night.”
If it seemed like the lines were shuffled, that’s because they were. Hartsburg explains what he was trying to accomplish.
“We had (Elias) Cohen at center on Friday. It was a good opportunity for us to put Dan D’Amato back in the middle and let Elias ease his way into that center position where he’s going to play here. He needs to spend some time at practice as he hasn’t had that much time in the middle. I like our depth. When we get Matthew (MacDougall) back, it will improve that much more. Sedore played his first two games of the season. Friday he was wide-eyed but Saturday he played a much better game. With Connor (Lockhart), his games have been up and down where it’s just a matter of him finding consistency.”
This week, the Otters have two very winnable games in Hamilton and Guelph coming to Erie Insurance Arena. Are these potential trap games? Hartsburg says as long as they focus on themselves and the way they want to play, it shouldn’t be a concern.
“We haven’t established who we are yet. It’s focusing on ourselves and not changing the way that we play regardless of who we are playing. You look at team like Hamilton and has just two wins and a team like Guelph who is young and have enjoyed some success early. They’re each going to play with structure.”
Hartsburg admitted it’s been easy to pinpoint their problems early on.”In the four wins, we’ve played a certain way. In the three losses, we’ve played a certain way. I think it’s easy to correct mistakes when you have valuable resources that show you why we win and how we’re winning as opposed to trying to figure out ok we should have won this game but we had bad goaltending or we got lucky this game because we had good goaltending.”
Speaking of goaltending, Aidan Campbell has been excellent in his starts. Has he earned more playing time moving forward?
“He’s (Aidan’s) going to play. That’s the nice thing about this month is that we can balance the starts a little bit and give Aidan a little more playing time than we initially thought. He’s gone out and performed and certainly has earned opportunities to play. Dan’s been really good too. For me, it’s sitting in a position where goaltending is become now a strength of our team. It’s something that’s been foreign for a couple of years. Right now, it’s going to be a format where I have an idea of how it’s going to go and it will work itself out here as we go on.”
Noah Sedore’s Road to Recovery
Forward Noah Sedore returned from an ankle injury last weekend. He had a great preseason but then suffered that injury that put him out for multiple weeks. He is 100% now and ready to make an impact.
“I’m feeling good,” Sedore said. “The ankle is feeling pretty strong. I put lots of rehab in. I wanted to take my time. I’m feeling good and strong.”
So how can he regain his preseason form where he was one of the most noticeable skaters on the ice?
“Just getting back into it, getting a lot more comfortable. Confidence is a big thing. If I can play my game, always competing and working hard, that’s when things fall into place for me. If I can do that, things will go well.”
The Otters are very impressed with what Sedore brings to the table. The first weekend back was him getting back to game speed. Expect to see more of him making an impact in games sooner rather than later.
Brendan Hoffmann: A Player to Watch
Anyone watching the Otters knows of the big names for the NHL Draft. Jamie Drysdale, Aidan Campbell, Hayden Fowler are all names that could hear their name in Montreal.
But there’s another Otter who made the Players to Watch list. Winger Brendan Hoffmann already has the NHL frame at 6-foot-2 and 205 pounds. He has some tools that could be of interest to teams at the next level. Hoffmann told us why he thought he got recognized and what it meant to him.
“Playing a simple, hard, fast up and down the ice game,” Hoffmann said. “I like to get in corners. I play a two-way game. I can play on the penalty kill. I think that attributed some to how they noticed me. It feels good. It gives you a little bit of confidence knowing that someone is watching you. You can’t let it get to your head too much. We have to continue to get better.”
Where is Hoffmann striving to get better at?
“Definitely more engagement physically and using my size to my advantage. Also being more of an active presence constantly, being able to open space for my teammates and cause disruption especially around the net.”
Hartsburg wants to see that consistency get better for Hoffmann.
“Consistency for him is a big part of it. He shows up at certain moments in the game and other moments not so much. It’s putting value in the little things I think that’s what’s important for him right now. He needs to be around the puck more. He needs to shoot the puck more. He needs to be around the net more.”
Consistency aside, it’s still nice to see a hard working player be recognized like this. We’ll see if he can continue his development to a point where an NHL team calls his name on draft day.
The Future of Alex Gritz
Fan favorite Alex Gritz has found his way on the bench of late due to the team being mostly healthy. This has caused some stir as to his potential future with the Otters. Coach Hartsburg discussed Gritz with us and what could happen.
“He’s still here, he’s practicing with us. He’s here until he’s gone I guess. It’s just one of those things. We have 13 forwards and someone has to sit. Our young guys need to play. That’s what we’re going with right now.”
There were rumors Gritz was on the roster bubble before the season began. But there were a slew of injuries which opened up a spot for him to make the roster. Now that everyone is mostly back, Hartsburg made it clear they want to play the kids. That doesn’t leave room for a 19-year old bottom-six forward.
So unless there’s more injuries, this could be the norm. It’s very much possible that Gritz either A) gets traded or B) is released. It’s too early to say what will happen for sure. But it’s something definitely worth watching. At this point, it doesn’t appear like he’ll play against Hamilton or Guelph. Stay tuned on this one.
The Otters will enter this week’s games in first place by number of points in their division. They have an opportunity to bank points against teams they should beat. Will they handle their business or will they fall in the trap? They still have seven of their next 10 games at home where they feel most comfortable. Opportunity awaits should they take 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 2021-22 season will mark eight seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager.