It's probably safe to say that this has been the most disappointing season in Erie Otters' history. The most travelled team in OHL history celebrated their diamond anniversary in Erie last season, and in this their 11th season in Erie could potentially be one of the worst on record. It is not the fact that the Otters have missed the post-season, they also failed to qualify in 2003, one season after winning an OHL championship. In 2005 they suffered an absolutely devastating first-round loss to the Kitchener Rangers, one could very easily argue that the hangover from those crushing 4 consecutive losses after taking a 2-0 series lead never really wore off heading into the 2005-2006 OHL season. One thing that also was lost in the mix was some uncertainty in the dressing room leading to Jhase Sniderman and promising young winger: Brett MacLean demanding trades. Of course these issues were simply masked by the Windsor Spitfires who's on and off ice issues to start the season simply ran away with an undesired spotlight that chased the team like an unwanted dog.
For the Otters it wasn't just the fact that
they failed to qualify for the post-season, being eliminated on Friday
night, on their home ice against the Plymouth Whalers (a team that over
the years has been dominant in Erie including a 3-0 record during the post-season).
For the Otters, the biggest issue was that during the season the team actually
made a blockbuster deal with the Oshawa Generals actually making an already
veteran team, that much older. The key player in that deal was Adam
Berti, who's return as an overager would be desired by the Otters, his
brother Chris returned as an overager for the Otters and during that season
the Otters won the OHL championship in 2002. The Otters simply refuse
to go through the motions, they played infront of a crowd of just under
4,000, and will continue playing with pride until their season ends next
Sunday on home ice against the Storm, they dressed a complete lineup, including
their overage netminder: Josh Disher who will not be returning next season.
The Rangers, recognizing the futility of the game, wanting to rest their
stars for the post-season with the flu threatening to make it's way around
the team, gave Evan McGrath, Justin Azevedo and Jakub Kindl the night off,
while captain Mark Fraser returned to the lineup after a night off in Kitchener
on Friday night. The trio of players comprising the top three scorers
for the Rangers on this season.
After a somewhat dominant 4-1 victory in Kitchener, things appeared to be back to normal in the early going on this Saturday night in Erie. Aside from the very pleasant warm and sunny weather. The Rangers playing somewhat shorthanded, got on the board very early. Kevin Henderson made it to the front of the net all alone while Cory Konecny and Nick Spaling did some fantastic work in the corner to get him the puck. Once it landed on his stick Henderson made little mistake in filling the net giving the Rangers, during their 4th visit to the Tullio Arena the very early lead. The Rangers, in the Otters' third to last home game were the first team to visit 4 times this season, with the irregular schedule that the Otters have because of their relative isolation from the remainder of the league, the Rangers are the only team that plays them eight times in one season. Things got a little crazy at the end of the period, some pent up frustrations were released as Lomas and others took exception to a hit on one of the Rangers. Julien Machabee and Josh Vatri squared off and shortly after Dan Gyenes and Chad Loikets squared off, the second fight resulted in game misconducts to both defenders that were involved.
Only 25 seconds into the second period with David Lomas in the box the Otters' struck for their first goal of the game. Adam Berti was credited with his 29th of the season when the puck appeared to deflect inadvertantly off of his upper body and into the top corner of the net behind Mark Packwood who was getting a rare start. Only minutes later Myles Applebaum scored his 2nd in as many games on the Rangers' power play to restore the lead. The second period was a sloppy one for the Rangers where they allowed a number of odd man rushes along with a couple of breakaways. Bret Nasby evened the score at two on one of these opportunities, and less than one minute later to the delight of those in attendance Ryan O'Marra scored his 25th of the season on the power play. The Rangers would press in the third for the equalizer, but Michael Blunden would score his team-leading 46th of the season into a vacated Kitchener net in the final minute to clinch the victory. The loss, leaves the Rangers with a 5-2 record against the Otters with only one game left next Friday in Kitchener. The Rangers have taken 4 consecutive season-series against the Otters.