The OHL Sunday Seven is back for the 2018-19 season. Every Sunday or thereabouts, we will go over seven stories or noteworthy items from the Ontario Hockey League. For our first installment of the new season, we try to make sense of Erie’s 12-1 win over Flint in their home opener. What does this say about the two teams if anything?
12-1 From Erie’s Prespective
The score was only 4-0 at the end of the second period. Given that the Firebirds were coming off a 6-2 loss to the Kitchener Rangers the night before, we expected fatigue to set in and the rest of the game would just cruise along.
Little did we know what was about to happen.
The Otters came out in the third and hung eight goals on the Firebirds. After it got to 6-0, things just got silly. One goal after another went in and you could hear the fans in the background chant “We want 10, we want 11 and we want 12.”
In fact goals were coming so fast and furious that even the Conga line from the Bugs Bunny cartoon had trouble keeping up. Remember this classic?
Let’s keep something in mind here. It was the first game of the season and the Otters took advantage of the situation. That’s all and that’s it. One game won’t define a season. They played fast. They played well. But that’s all it is. It’s one chapter of a 68-chapter book.
Here’s what you should take away. The Otters will be a fun team to watch grow. They are very young in spots. But they play fast and have a decent lineup. Some publications predicted the Otters would finish last in the OHL. While getting to the playoffs will be a battle, they’re not going to finish last in the league. Many see the youth and experience. Fewer see the overall potential. This Otters’ team has it. Can they reach it will be the thing to watch.
Side note: Wonderful catch by Jeremy Crowe. Almost every Otters’ player scored at least one point, except if your name was Brendan. How does this happen?
12-1 From Flint’s Perspective
You couldn’t have drawn up a worse start for the Firebirds. Optimism was present going into the season. But now after an 0-2 road trip that saw them get outscored 18-3, they have some serious questions.
That said, circumstances certainly did not help the Firebirds. Dennis Busby took a puck off his right foot at Coyotes’ camp and is week-to-week. The Firebirds played with just 5D in their first two games as a result. Consider this injury and then consider Fedor Gordeev is still at Leafs’ camp and you see the defensive holes. Busby has an appointment in two weeks and they’ll have a better idea then what his timeframe will be.
If you’re coach Ryan Oulahen, how do you handle this start without doubt creeping in? After the game, the coaches held a lengthy meeting. The good news is it’s still very early and there’s plenty of time to right the ship. But if the Firebirds can’t figure out their blueline in a reasonable amount of time, it could be another long season.
There’s still reason for optimism (Evan Vierling’s upside among other things) but this team needs to come together and fix what’s ailing them soon.
The Otters’ captain continues to be criminally underrated. He helped pace the Otters by recording a hat trick. Although he spent some time with AHL Rockford last season, he’s still without a contract for some reason. Just look at his Otters’ career since the 2015-16 season.
- 2015-16: 27-44-71 in 68 games.
- 2016-17: 16-48-64 in 64 games.
- 2017-18: 31-35-66 in 65 games.
Makismovich now has 229 career points which puts him in the top-10 on the all-time Otters’ scoring list. He just produces no matter who’s around him. His numbers have been steady whether he was surrounded with talent or not. Another 30-goal season is easily within reach for him. He will go down as one of the greatest Otters to ever play but doesn’t get the credit most of the other greats get.
Sometimes switching positions is just the thing a player needs to jump start their game. At least for one night, Gera Poddubnyi did just that.
After playing his entire Otters’ career to date as a center, he’s on the wing now and produced 2-2-4 in his debut showing. He was a force along the wall. And when given the chance to produce offense, he didn’t disappoint.
If, and that’a a big if at this point after just one game, Poddubnyi can play big on the wing, this changes what the Otters can do. Good teams can send 2-3 solid lines out who can score. Hayden Fowler’s line will produce with Maksimovich and Danial Singer once he’s back from suspension. But that second line of Poddubnyi, Max Golod and Petr Cajka has some interesting potential.
Their performance will have a lot to say in the final outcome of the season for the Otters. A season of 25-30 goals is within reason for Poddubnyi. He has offense but it seems he’s in a better position to contribute.
Drysdale did not disappoint in his OHL debut. He recorded two assists including a beauty of a primary assist on the 5-0 goal. But it was his defense that stood out for a rookie.
Drysdale used his effortless skating to disrupt a Firebirds’ scoring opportunity. He raced back from blue line to blue line, took the body and separated the player from the puck. It seems simple yet it’s impressive for a 16-year old defenseman to do what he does at such an early age.
He’s draft eligible in 2020. With Quinton Byfield and Alexis Lafreniere dominating at the top, someone is going to land a premier, right-shooting, offensively minded defenseman. In other words, that 2020 draft is simply loaded.
You’d think after a 12-1 game that a player wouldn’t want to speak given how frustrated they would be. Stars’ prospect Ty Dellandrea not only spoke to me postgame, he gave five solid minutes and was real with the situation. That’s what good leaders do.
I asked him straight up what’s gone wrong this first two games.
“It’s more than hockey. It’s not the systems or the play. There’s some soul searching going on”, Dellandrea said.
I like the honesty. The players have to look in the mirror at themselves and find their way out of this. Dellandrea saw the team was out of sorts and tried waking them up. He found himself in a fight with Hayden Fowler.
“Nothing against Fowler at all. I was just trying to get the team going”, Dellandrea said.
He still has some things to learn especially on the defensive end. But he understands when a leader needs to try to step up and help his team. It will be interesting to watch his development this year not only from a hockey standpoint but from a leadership standpoint. He is their best offensive player and captain. How will he and the team handle the different adversities that come their way? Only two games into the new season, we’re about to find out.
In the midst of the blowout, Petr Cajka didn’t play in the third period. Otters’ GM Dave Brown confirmed postgame he was held out as a precautionary measure and is expected to not miss any game time.
Cajka’s debut was not bad. He recorded two assists, was a +4 and was 8/14 at the dot. If he can adjust to the North American game in quick manner, all of a sudden, you have an Otters’ team that might surprise a few people. Some have him ranked as a first rounder for the 2019 draft. He definitely helps give the top-six a new and dangerous look. Let’s see how he handles things when teams start to focus on him more.
The Otters play next on Friday in Mississauga and then at home Saturday against Kingston. The Firebirds play in Sarnia on Friday then host London on Saturday for their home opener.
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.