Otters One Win Away From OHL Finals

Sometimes heroes come from the most unexpected places.

When the Erie Otters needed a hero Friday night, they got a jolt from a surprising source. Fourth-liner Gera Poddubnyi scored twice early while defenseman Jordan Sambrook scored the eventual game-winning goal with just 13.7 seconds left in the second period to lift the Otters to a 4-2 victory over the Owen Sound Attack in Game 5 of the OHL Western Conference Finals.

The Otters lead the best-of-seven series 3-2 with Game 6 coming Sunday in Owen Sound.

Fourth Lines Produced

The story of the game was the fourth line of both teams. They scored the first four goals of the game, with Aiden Dudas scoring twice only to have Poddubnyi match him.

The game was a back-and-forth affair with both teams getting good scoring chances. It was a heavyweight fight with both teams trying to gain the upper hand.

Then an ill-timed penalty by the Owen Sound captain changed the momentum of this game.

Erie’s Alex DeBrincat was about to get a tripping call late in the second period that would have sent the Attack on the power play. On the delayed call, defenseman Santino Centorame had a partial break and drove the net hard. It was a good idea until he ran over Otters goaltender Troy Timpano. Goaltender interference nullified the power play and it was four-on-four.

The Otters jumped on the opportunity.

The puck found Erik Cernak at the right point. He made a great cross-ice pass to Sambrook who made no mistake from the slot to give the Otters their 3-2 lead. Attack Coach Ryan McGill admitted this was a huge turning point in the game.

“I thought their best players were their best players.”, McGill said of the Otters. “I thought we had trouble in the beginning of the game. We gave up way too many scoring chances in the beginning of the game. I thought we showed a little more composure in battling back again in the first period. We had a power play coming up the ice and we didn’t show the composure. They score a late goal in the second period four-on-four on a little bit of a missed assignment. I thought we had some push in the third period. We had some chances but for whatever reason we didn’t connect.”

Gera Poddubnyi
Gera Poddubnyi overcame visa issues to score two of the biggest goals of his career. (Matt Mead Photography LLC)

Gera Poddubnyi’s Journey

Recall that Poddubnyi had to deal with some work visa issues and had to miss some time while that was being rectified. Friday night was quite the way to make an impact. His two goals were his first two career playoff goals. He immediately credited his linemates for the goals.

“I was fortunate enough to have two good linemates.”, Poddubnyi said after the game. “I just came in and tried to play my game and stay focused. I finally adapted now (after dealing with visa issues.)”

“G has been in a really tough position.”, coach Kris Knoblauch added. “In the regular season if you’re gone for an extended period of time, you come back and you have your regular practices. With the amount of games that we play every other day, we have had very few regular practices for the last three weeks. Now would be a good time for G to get into the game situations. Unfortunately we haven’t had those. For him to play as well as he did tonight under the circumstances that he’s gone through in the last three weeks it’s a credit to him.”

Final Notes

The Otters did suffer an injury during the second period. Cameron Lizotte left the game and didn’t return. After the game, Knoblauch admitted that Lizotte suffered an upper-body injury and is day-to-day. Knoblauch added the team would know more in the coming days.

An Otters win in Game 6 will send them to the OHL Finals where they would host the Mississauga Steelheads. An Owen Sound win Sunday would force a Game 7 back in Erie on Monday, May 1.