Welcome back to the OHL Sunday Seven. During the 2019-20 season on most Sundays, we will talk about seven stories around the Erie Otters and the rest of the OHL. This week, when a team announces it’s staying put in a city, it’s big news.
1. Erie Otters Are Staying Put
Before Friday night’s home opener, the Erie Otters and Erie Events announced that both parties have agreed to and signed a new 10-year lease extension that will keep in the Otters in Erie and them playing at Erie Insurance Arena. The agreement starts with the 2019-20 season.
This is wonderful news for a team that has constantly had rumors around them when it comes to relocation, especially before Connor McDavid arrived on the scene. Here is an article from back in 2012 outlining rumors the team was going to Hamilton. And then in 2014, the Otters got a five-year deal that just expired, but it was thanks in large part to McDavid.
The new deal also includes an agreement to build a full-time retail store inside Erie Insurance Arena. Merchandise sales were either done online, in the team office or in the concourse during games. Now they’ll have a dedicated full-time space. There will also be dedicated office space within the arena as well for the team. The office is currently across the street from the arena.
Both the Otters and Erie Events are pleased with the new pact.
“All of us in the Otters organization are pleased and excited to have our new ten-year lease signed with the ECCCA,” Erie Otters Owner and Governor Jim Waters said. “The Otters are very fortunate to call this fantastic facility home. I’m ecstatic to join our many fans and community partners in Erie in continuing Otters success for years to come.”
“We’re thrilled to retain this important business in Western Pennsylvania,” said John “Casey” Wells, Erie Events Executive Director. “Not only does our hockey team provide great entertainment, it generates a positive economic impact, creates jobs, and improves the quality of life in our community.”
Couple this with the work done in recent years with the renovation of Erie Insurance Arena and you have an amazing transformation from 2011 to now. The Otters are alive and well and will bring world-class hockey to northwestern Pennsylvania for at least the next decade.
2. Erie Otters Sweep the Weekend
Thanks to an offensive explosion, the Otters swept their two games this weekend, starting with a 5-2 win on Friday against the Sudbury Wolves. After a sluggish start, the Otters exploded for four goals in the third period, including the game-winner from the fourth line.
Alex Gritz and Daniel D’Amato found themselves with a two-on-one in the third period of a 2-2 game. Gritz found D’Amato to give the Otters the lead for good. The story here is two-fold.
First, D’Amato was outstanding all game. His line tilted the ice in the Otters’ favor thanks to their hard work and relentlessness. They provided energy all night. Then they got the ultimate reward after Kurtis Henry’s harmless wrister found the back of the net.
They seized momentum and then unlike in past seasons, didn’t give it right back.
Also scoring in this game was Max Golod, Hayden Fowler and Connor Lockhart. So the scoring came from a defenseman not named Jamie Drysdale, and members of the first, second and fourth line. This theme continued right into Saturday night.
The Otters exploded and posted an eight-spot in Hamilton’s home opener. Danial Singer opened the scoring. Then the Otters got goals from Chad Yetman, Emmett Sproule, D’Amato again, Golod again, Fowler again, Yetman again, and then Jamie Drysdale. Drysdale’s goal gave him a five-point night, making him just the third defenseman in Otters’ history to score five points in a game. David Froh and Steve Montador are the others.
What’s the takeaway from these two games? Depth and speed everywhere. They can now roll out four solid lines and can send a mobile, puck-moving defenseman out on each pair. The result is a team that can beat you in many ways when things are going right. On this weekend, 10 Otters scored at least two points.
But let’s keep our expectations in check. Sudbury does have some legitimate questions on defense and in goal. And Hamilton was missing both Isaac Nurse and Logan Morrison in Saturday’s game. Still, the framework for Otters’ success was realized in these two games. Now let’s see how they do against better competition.
3. Quinton Byfield’s Hot Start
So top prospect Quinton Byfield is off to a tremendous start as expected. The Sudbury Wolves have five goals. Byfield has five points including four goals (only Matej Pekar has more goals as of Sunday morning.)
Byfield is a man amongst boys. He’s 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, and has improved on his skating. He is a beast.
Now, when it comes to draft rankings, I have seen some publications ranking him as low as sixth or seventh. Wait, what?
I have been asked who should go higher, Byfield or Cole Perfetti. Although I am on record as saying Perfetti should have won rookie of the year in the OHL, there is no contest who I’d rather have in the NHL and that’s Byfield.
The question we need to be asking here is how close is Byfield to Alexis Lafreniere? Byfield is clearly number two on my list and does have a case to go number one. But 80 and 105 points in the two seasons before this one for Lafreniere is too hard to ignore. But let’s also consider Byfield is almost a full year younger than Lafrienere. Byfield is August 2002 and Lafreniere is October 2001.
This is closer than many are giving it credit for. Lafreniere is first on my list, but if Byfield comes out and takes Sudbury deep in the playoffs and wins an OHL scoring title, then this becomes a big discussion. I have time to consider Byfield first. I don’t have time to consider him below second.
4. Matej Pekar Primed for Huge Season
Both Barrie Colts and Buffalo Sabres’ fans will love this. Matej Pekar has five goals in his first two games with the Colts including a hat trick and an assist Saturday night against the London Knights. He is primed for a huge season.
What makes him especially intriguing for me is that he isn’t afraid to get physical when needed. One moment he’ll use his skill to put his team ahead on the scoreboard. The next, he’s dropping the gloves.
But the play that stood out for me was this insane goal from his knees. This was his hat trick goal from Saturday night. Phenomenal. Big year is coming for the Czech-born prospect.
5. The Streak is Over
The Flint Firebirds did something that hadn’t been done by them since February 2017 on Saturday night. They defeated the Saginaw Spirit in a regular-season game.
Jake Durham recorded a hat trick to help lead his team to victory. That has to feel real good for the Firebirds who see the Spirit eight times a season thanks to their close proximity and their I-75 rivalry. While the Spirit are still my Western Conference pick to make the OHL final once everyone gets back, it’s encouraging to see the direction Flint is going.
Evan Vierling is now in year two. Brennan Othamnn will be fun to watch as a rookie. If he doesn’t make the Stars, Ty Dellandrea can come back and try to dominate. For the first time in a few years, there is reason to watch this team nightly. OHL Champion goalie Anthony Popovich is now their number one.
It’ll be curious to see how this team ultimately does. But I do think a playoff spot is available for them. Considering what all has happened to them, that is wonderful and welcomed news.
6. SDA, the Petes & the Future
His time in Maple Leafs’ camp seemed to spark something in SDA. Der-Arguchintsev is out to the very early scoring lead in the OHL with seven assists in two games. He had three in London and four in Windsor. Yet somehow the Petes are only 1-1 to start the season.
That game in Windsor was pond hockey on full display. After going up 4-0 on the Spitfires, the Petes got outscored 9-2 the rest of the way. I have high hopes for the Petes this season. But they better figure themselves out defensively if they hope to get where they want to go.
Where does this team go from here especially on the Ryan Merkley front? Given the rumors and reports that have floated, it’s not worth us saying anything until we get something definite. But something has to happen eventually. The team doesn’t need this hanging over them.
With SDA primed for a big season along with Nick Robertson and exciting youngsters such as Mason McTavish in the fold, there’s high hopes for a good season. But they have to figure some things out. The sooner, the better.
7. It’s Time to Dump Preseason Rankings
Every week, I will find something to rant about that either needs to change or just needs to go entirely. In this case, it’s time to scrap the preseason rankings.
They mean absolutely nothing. What’s even the point? London was ranked first on the initial rankings release this season. They’re now off to an 0-2 start thanks in large part to injuries.
I get that it’s something for fans to debate and have fun with. But to the teams, it’s means jack.
My suggestion: Let’s wait until November before we release rankings, shall we? Players are at NHL camps or playing in NHL games and might not come back until later or not at all. Releasing them the first week in November is a much better representation of the situation. You have a much better idea of which teams belong and which ones don’t.
Of course rankings will still be a thing, but right now, it’s a giant waste of time.
See you next time.
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.