Turns out that Buffalo could see playoff hockey in the spring after all.
Saturday night, the OHL announced the schedule for the first round of the playoffs. A closer look at the schedule reveals a strange situation that could happen, assuming the series goes long enough.
The Erie Otters defeated the London Knights 4-2 on Saturday, clinching the OHL regular season title. The Otters will host the eighth-seeded Saginaw Spirit in the first round starting this Friday in Erie. This appears normal to the naked eye. It’s later in this series where strange things could happen.
If the Saginaw-Erie series requires a game five, that game will not happen in Erie.
It’s true. According to the OHL press release, if the Spirit and Otters need a game five, it will take place in Buffalo, at First Niagara Center. The game on April 2nd will start at 3pm.
The Erie Otters will host Game 5 of their first-round playoff series with Saginaw at Buffalo's First Niagara Center. April 2, if necessary.
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) March 20, 2016
How did this happen? It comes down to one very important detail: arena availability.
Erie Insurance Arena Is Unavailable
The home of the Erie Otters is also the home of other events, such as the NBA D-League’s Erie Bayhawks, as well as various other shows, concerts, and performances. A multi-day scheduling conflict has prompted this move.
On April 1st-2nd, Erie Insurance Arena is hosting the Pennsylvania Junior Wrestling Championships. Therefore, there was no way the arena could host hockey of any kind.
There was talk of this series using a 2-3-2 format, but the preference was to keep the normal 2-2-1-1-1 setup. The game in Buffalo if necessary will count as a home game for the Otters, meaning they will get the normal home team perks, such as last change.
There’s an important question however that we must ask given the circumstances. How could this even happen in the first place?
Surely, the arena must have known the Otters had a good shot at making the playoffs. It’s up to them to make sure the arena is available for potential playoff games. Because of this situation, you are making the team travel 90 miles to play a home game.
The real losers here are the fans who are unable to travel up to see the game. Now they have to pay for gas on top of other expenses that normally wouldn’t have applied. Talk about a major inconvenience.
To add to this, a potential game six would happen the next day in Saginaw. So there’s now extra travel involved for a back-to-back situation. The arena clearly dropped the ball scheduling this wrestling event and forcing the Otters to play home games 90 miles from their actual home rink.
All that said, this situation might not even happen if the Otters sweep the series. Regardless, it’s a situation that should never happen to begin with. I don’t recall a time ever (maybe except for Ottawa) where a team had to play away from their home rink. Hopefully everyone involved learned from this. Let’s hope we never have to see this again anywhere in the world of hockey.