Surprise Starter Murdaca Leads Otters to Game 1 Victory

The legend of Erie Otters goaltender Joseph Murdaca only continues to grow.

After helping the Otters comeback from a pair of 3-1 deficits against the London Knights, coach Kris Knoblauch named Murdaca his Game 1 starter in the OHL’s Western Conference Finals. Just like the London series, Murdaca made his coach look like a genius.

Murdaca stopped 27 Owen Sound shots and helped lead the Otters to a convincing 6-1 win Friday night at Erie Insurance Arena. Taylor Raddysh paced the offense by scoring twice and adding an assist. Alex DeBrincat added a goal and two assists while captain Dylan Strome added a goal against one of the best defensive teams in the OHL.

The story on this night was Murdaca.

Murdaca Giving Otters Confidence

In his limited playing time in the playoffs, Murdaca has stopped 58 of 60 shots he’s faced against London and Owen Sound. For someone who got traded to the Otters mid-season looking for a chance to prove himself, Murdaca hasn’t disappointed. His performance has given his team confidence.

“Murdaca’s a competitor.”, Strome told me after the game. “He’s chirping us in practice when he makes a save. We’re chirping him when we score a goal. He makes us better. He brings that same attitude to the games. It’s no surprise what he’s doing given the work he puts in during practice.”

Obviously, Murdaca did enough to earn Knoblauch’s trust to start Game 1. What was the thought process behind starting him over Troy Timpano?

“We’ve got two excellent goaltenders that we have a lot of confidence in. When you look at our regular season record, I believe Joe was 12-3. Troy is 36-8 I believe, almost identical winning percentage. I think the way our team plays defense and the big saves that our goalies make, like I said before we have a lot of confidence in either one of them. We could rotate each game or go with the hot hand or whatever. Yeah I think our team all of the players has a lot of confidence in those two.”

Of course the obvious follow-up question is who starts Game 2 on Saturday night.

“We can switch it up, or we’ll see.”, Knoblauch said. Yeah, we weren’t getting the answer to that one. But given his recent performance, it would be a shocker if Murdaca didn’t get the call for Game 2. He deserves the chance to see how far he can take this.

Owen Sound’s Jitters

On the Owen Sound side, they looked nervous early on. Coach Ryan McGill said as much after the game.

“I thought our team looked like a deer in the headlights.”, McGill said. “(They were) a little bit nervous to start. I don’t think we recovered after that. And give credit to them (the Otters.) Their veteran players played a solid, simple, fast game.”

The Attack were down 2-0 in their earlier series against the Ste. St Marie Greyhounds before winning four straight games. They were the best team in the second half of the season winning 33 of their last 38 games. Expect a better effort from them in Game 2.

Starter Michael McNiven had a shaky outing in Game 1. McGill said after the game that McNiven wasn’t given much help, especially on a couple of the early goals. They were tic-tac-toe plays. The Attack pulled McNiven after the score was 5-0. No goalie controversy here. Expect their Red Tilson nominee back in the net Saturday night for Game 2.

This game felt different from Game 7 of the London series. There wasn’t the usual playoff buzz in the building. There were just over 4,000 fans in attendance. But it felt like a regular season game. The Otters expect a better crowd on Saturday night. We’ll see if that gives the Otters even more momentum than they already having being up 1-0.

Puck drop for Game 2 is 7:00 P.M. at Erie Insurance Arena. The Otters look to take a commanding 2-0 series lead in their pursuit of the Wayne Gretzky trophy and Western Conference championship.