The Erie Otters return to the OHL this season hasn’t been as smooth as others in the league. With being housed in Erie, PA. the team has struggled with factors that have been out of their reach such as travel restrictions. Their poor performance put them dead last in the conference and league and it looked like the 2022 draft would have the Otters as the best contender for the first pick overall.
Fast track to today where they are still last, they have the best record in the last 10 games any team in the Western Conference has played. So far in 2022 they have won five out of eight games and walked away with points in six of them. Erie now sits a few points behind the Saginaw Spirit and Sarnia Sting and is on pace to be in a playoffs position in early February.
The biggest explanation is their rookie goalie Nolan Lalonde. While it’s not unheard of for rookie goalies to be in the starting position in the OHL it’s still not a common sight. The Kingston native was drafted in 2020 but his actual rookie season was canceled. Now, this season the Otters found themselves without a definitive starter goalie and that has given him the position.
In the first month, you saw potential from Lalonde, although he struggled to get a 0.900 save percentage in games even when they were winning. It was a tough order for a new goalie to try to stop shots from veterans who were drafted by NHL teams already. Now in 2022, he has only one game below 0.900 and it was the game against the London Knights where the Otters lost 6-2.
Lalonde isn’t the only reason the team has had a strong January. The team’s offense has been taking a stronger role in the team’s success. Vancouver Canucks‘ prospect Connor Lockhart lead the team this month with six goals to his 15-goal total this season.
Other members of the team have stepped up as well. 11 players have scored a goal this past month including Elias Cohen had the second most amount of goals with five. The points leader for the team and Toronto native has almost doubled the number of goals he has had this season with it currently being 13.
Christian Kyrou now has nine goals with four added this month and even rookie Spencer Sova has joined the fun with two goals.
What’s more impressive is the number of issues January has given the team off the ice as well. Because of the Omnicom variant of Covid-19, Ontario has closed down into another lockdown. Even if the lockdown wasn’t as strict as others have been in 2020 and early 2021, it was still going to prove tough for the team.
Almost all of the Otters" home games against Canadian teams had to be postponed and they would be careful when traveling to Canada to face other teams. The only time Erie fans would be able to see the Otters play at home would be against either the Sprit or Flint Firebirds.
Despite not playing as many games in January and despite not having the home-ice advantage for any of their games against Canadian teams, they still have the best record in the West for the month. With the playoffs coming in April they still have a lot of time to secure a position as a top-eight team in the West.
What happens in the playoffs is quite unknown as they are more likely going to be a team that qualifies but is eliminated in the first round. But despite all those problems the Otters have shown resilience in a tough season and being awarded a playoff appearance could be an award in itself.
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