Otters start strong at Memorial Cup with victory over Thunderbirds
Erie captain Dylan Strome nets go-ahead goal early in 3rd period
Alex DeBrincat knows this may be his only chance at capturing a Memorial Cup. He's put his Erie Otters on the right track to making it happen.
- DeBrincat, Strome lead explosive Otters into Memorial Cup
DeBrincat opened the scoring, then assisted on Dylan Strome's go-ahead goal early in the third period as Erie beat the Seattle Thunderbirds 4-2 on Saturday in the first game for both teams at the 2017 Memorial Cup.
"It's huge to get that first win, it kind of gets the nerves out of you," DeBrincat said. "We can calm down a little bit [now] and play our game."
The Otters have been one of the top teams in the Ontario Hockey League in recent years, but it took DeBrincat and Co. three tries to reach the Memorial Cup.
In 2015, led by Connor McDavid, Erie was ousted in the OHL final by the Oshawa Generals. And last season the Otters were eliminated by the London Knights in the OHL's Western Conference final. Both Oshawa and London went on to win the Canadian Hockey League's biggest prize.
"Words don't describe winning that [OHL] championship to get here," DeBrincat said, who was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks 39th overall in 2016.
DeBrincat, Strome — who was returned to junior by the Arizona Coyotes — and the Raddysh brothers, Darren and Taylor, gave Erie a strong core to begin the 2016-17 season. The team got an added boost when they acquired forwards Anthony Cirelli and Warren Foegele via mid-season trades.
"Some of us it's our last chance, this is big for us. I think this is kind of our year, we went all in and hopefully it pays off," DeBrincat explained.
'Erie Otters hockey' got us here
Carl Stankowski gave the Western Hockey League champion Thunderbirds (0-1) a chance to compete by stopping 31-of-34 shots. He had to come up big early and often as Erie controlled the game.
The 17-year-old netminder stretched out his left leg on a Cirelli redirect in front to keep it scoreless through the first period. Stankowski then went post-to-post to get a piece of a Strome shot soon after.
The Otters made life difficult for the Thunderbirds with their forecheck, pinning Seattle in its own zone for most of the opening period.
"You got here playing a certain way and you're not going to change that," Erie coach Kris Knoblauch said. "It's Erie Otters hockey, it's what got us here and what we'll finish with."
Stankowski was at it again to start the second period, stopping Taylor Raddysh on a breakaway just over a minute in. He followed that with a glove save on DeBrincat from point-blank range on an Erie power play.
He couldn't stop everything, though, as DeBrincat finally put Erie on the board on the same power play at 5:40, tucking a shot between Stankowski's arm and body.
"It was a big goal for me, and the team too," DeBrincat said. "We were struggling to get a goal. Their goalie robbed me right before that and I had another Grade-A chance and it trickled through.
'Our identity wasn't there'
Scott Eansor responded for Seattle to tie the game, snapping a shot blocker side on Troy Timpano from the off wing at 9:40.
Jordan Sambrook restored the lead for Erie, but two sides went into the second intermission tied 2-2 after Austin Strand beat a screened Timpano 1:08 after Sambrook's goal.
The Otters held a 29-14 shot advantage after 40 minutes.
Strome gave Erie a 3-2 lead just 1:36 into the third period. He scored from the top of the goal crease, finishing off a play with Taylor Raddysh and DeBrincat.
Seattle had a chance to tie the score midway through the third, but Timpano turned away Ryan Gropp, who chose to shoot on a 2-on-1 break. Christian Girhiny iced the game with Stankowski on the bench at 18:41.
"A bit of our identity wasn't there during the game and we'll correct a few things," Seattle coach Steve Konowalchuk said. "We have a few individuals who can rebound."
With files from CBC Sports