Erie Otters Ride Potent Offense Into OHL Finals
Erie, the only team to reach the 50-win mark this season, will be playing for its second J. Ross Robertson Cup, its only other title came in 2001-02. Mississauga, No. 2 in the Eastern Conference, will be playing the underdogs and is searching for its first OHL Championship.
Erie's OffenseOtters winger Alex DeBrincat paced the league with 65 goals and 127 points in 63 games. Teammate Taylor Raddysh led the league with 67 assists and finished second with 109 points -- his 42 goals placed him in sixth at season's end.
DeBrincat, a prospect of the Chicago Blackhawks, has continued his hot play, leading all players with 31 points through 17 postseason games. The Otters' deep offense, which also includes Dylan Strome and Anthony Cirelli, has joined DeBrincat and Raddysh in filling out the scoresheet every game.
DeBrincat and Raddysh are currently No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in playoff scoring. Meanwhile, Strome checks in a No. 3, and Cirelli is No. 5. Erie's Darren Raddysh and Warren Foegele come in at No. 9 and No. 10, respectively, to give Erie six of the top 10 scorers this postseason. Darren Raddysh was named a nominee for OHL Defenseman of the Year.
Mississauga center Michael McLeod enters the series at No. 4 with 25 points in 15 games and is joined by teammate Spencer Watson at No. 7 as the only Steelheads players in the top 10.
Erie has depended deeply on its offense, which has scored a monstrous 78 goals through 17 games, a pace of 4.5 goals per game. In 15 games, Mississauga has scored 62 goals (4.1 per game).
Mississauga's Matthew MancinaThe Erie offense will be a huge test for Mississauga goaltender Matthew Mancina. The 21-year-old's fourth OHL season wasn't without its problems, but the Windsor native has found his game in the playoffs.
Mancina leads all playoff goaltenders with a 1.90 goals against average, two shutouts, and just one loss in nine games. His .924 save percentage is third among all playoff goaltenders. His counterpart is Erie's Troy Timpano, a third-year OHL player with a rough start to his first playoffs. Timpano holds a 2.85 GAA and .893 SV% through 15 playoff games.
Not only are the Otters running into the hottest goalie of the playoffs, but they are also playing arguably the best defensive unit.
The Steelheads top four of Nicolas Hague, Jacob Moverare, Stefan LeBlanc, and Vili Saarijarvi -- another OHL Defenseman of the Year nominee -- have been up to the task on both sides of the ice these playoffs.
Mississauga has also improved with each passing round and has shown it can handle any team in its way. The Steelheads defeated the seventh-seeded Ottawa 67's 4-2 in the first round, No. 3 seed Oshawa 4-1 in the second round, and swept No. 1 seed Peterborough 4-0.
Peterborough was 8-0 through the first two rounds before losing four straight to Mancina and Mississauga.
A Peek At 2017-18This could be Erie's last, best chance for an OHL title in the near future as it will likely lose a number of its players to its NHL organizations. DeBrincat, Strome, Cirelli, and the Raddysh brothers are all likely to take the next step.
Speculation aside, there is still some great hockey to be played during the final round.
The puck will drop at 7 PM ET on Thursday at the Erie Insurance Center to begin the best-of-seven series.
Have a question or a comment for Jacob Messing? You can find him on Twitter @JMessing23.