January usually isn’t the time we talk about teams clinching playoff births. One team decided to make it a thing on Friday night. It just goes to show you how impressive their season has been.
Friday night, the Erie Otters travelled to Budweiser Gardens to take on their division rival London Knights. Both teams went into the game shorthanded thanks to the Top Prospects game the night before. In the case of the Knights, they had their coach and three of its players suspended thanks to a line brawl in their previous game. Erie took advantage of the opportunity presented to them.
The Otters came away with a 6-2 win, putting them six points ahead of the Knights in the division. Couple the Otters win with the Flint Firebirds 4-3 loss to the Sarnia Sting, and Erie became the first team in the CHL to punch their ticket to the postseason.
The Otters have a record of 38-7-1-0 for 77 points. The Firebirds have a record of 14-27-3-2 for 33 points. Flint has 22 games left. Those 44 points would put them even with the Otters. However, Flint can’t catch Erie in wins. Therefore, it’s a done deal. Not that anyone thought Erie would not make the playoffs. It’s how quickly they made it official that’s the story.
Many coming into the season felt the Otters would lose something with the departure of Connor McDavid to the NHL. Although that’s a huge hole to fill, many members of last year’s team returned, including new captain Dylan Strome, LA Kings prospect Jake Marchment, Toronto prospect Travis Dermott, along with 2016 draft eligible players in Alex DeBrincat and Taylor Raddysh. Add veterans Nick Betz, Darren Raddysh, Kyle Maksimovich to that mix, along with youngsters like Vanya Lodnia and Jordan Sambrook, and you got a team primed to make a run at a Memorial Cup.
The Otters also got a nice surprise when Kings prospect Erik Cernak joined them. Cernak was the Otters top pick in this past CHL import draft. At first, he didn’t report. Once things settled down, he’s come on board and added a presence to an already deep blue line.
The Key To The Otters
The story of this season’s Otters starts and ends in the net. Devin Williams is the reason the Otters are where they’re at. Williams has a record of 31-3-1 on the season, with a 2.11 goals against and .924 save percentage. Many considered Williams as the reason the Otters didn’t win it all last season. He became the scapegoat of many when things didn’t go well.
All he’s done this season is become the best player on the Erie Otters.
He came into this season with a new level of confidence, thanks in large part to time he spent at an NHL camp. He said that experience really got his attention. He’s been able to take that experience and apply it to this season.
The Otters have allowed the fewest goals in the league as a result. They are also tied for second in goals for. The Otters are more dangerous this season, thanks to the improved defense, even without Connor McDavid. The Otters were 33-10-1-2 after 46 games last season. They are now eight points better this season after 46 games.
Their focus now is making sure they win their division and get the number one seed. With London and Kitchener still within striking distance, the Otters must keep the pedal to the metal. With the way this team plays defense now, they’re the favorite to make the OHL Final. They are 5-0 against London and Kitchener, outscoring them by a combined 22-10.
The Otters are in the playoffs, but the story has yet to begin.
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 2022-23 season will mark nine seasons with the Hockey Writers. I am also the site’s Credentials Manager. Please take note of the updated Twitter handle: @mark_scheig.