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Welcome to Erie, Kris Knoblauch.
Knoblauch, coaching his first game in Erie since taking over for Robbie Ftorek on Nov. 29, got a solid effort from his new team in a 6-2 drubbing of the Ottawa 67’s in front on 2,733 at Erie Insurance Arena. The win also snapped a six-game losing streak for the Otters, the longest of the season.
“I thought (the team) did a really good job,” said Knoblauch, who led the Kootneay Ice to the Western Hockey League Championship two years ago. “You never know what to expect. Ottawa had a rough one (last night) and you never know how they are going to come out.”
Well, it was Knoblauch’s team that came out of the gates hot and wasted little time putting the 67’s in a deep hole in the early goings.
Defenseman Jimmy McDowell’s power-play goal, which he ripped past Ottawa goaltender Jacob Blair 7 minutes, 7 seconds into the first period, was the start of three unanswered in the opening 20 minutes of play. Rookie Hayden Hodgson and team captain Connor Brown scored 25 seconds apart to make it 3-0.
“We knew we had to come out and get a quick start,” said McDowell, who ended the night with a goal and two assists.
It’s been tough sledding this season of Ottawa, a team that is usually in the mix every season come playoff time in the Eastern Conference. On Thursday, the Niagara IceDogs scored nine straight en route to a 9-0 victory over the hapless 67’s.
But, despite being outscored 12-0 in their last four periods, Ottawa attempted to steal the momentum when rookie Dante Salituro roofed a shot past Oscar Dansk, who stopped all nine shots he faced in the first period, just 52 seconds into the second to cut into the Erie lead and make it 3-1.
As for the notion of stealing the momentum? Well, Erie just let the visitors borrow it for 10 minutes. After that, it was all Erie.
With relenting pressure in their own zone, the style of play Knoblauch is trying to install in his new team, Connor McDavid’s hustle and quick stick led to Erie’s fourth goal.
McDavid, who was recently named the OHL’s rookie of the month for November, his second consecutive month with that honor, intercepted a pass and fed J.P. Labardo for his 11th of the season at 12:02.
“I thought we were aggressive and created some turnovers,” Knoblauch said. “And we capitalized on those turnovers.”
Less than three minutes later, Kyle Pettit, with his back against the end boards below the goal line, threw a puck at the net and eventually trickled through Blair, giving the Otters a four-goal lead at 5-1.
Pettit’s goal, his second of the season, chased Blair from the game. He ended his night, one he would surely like to forget, allowing five goals on 29shots. He was replaced by Clint Windsor, who was yanked in Niagara on Thursday after allowing six goals on 28 shots.
If the 67’s (7-22-0-3) were looking for the Otters to play dump-and-chase and settle for the 5-1 win, they were sadly mistaken. And Windsor’s woes in net only continued.
Connor Crisp batted a puck out of the air, and from his keister knocked the puck past Windsor to extend the Erie lead to 6-1.
The Otters (8-17-2-3) would add 10 more shots in the direction of Windsor and end the game with a 43-27 advantage in shots on goal. The 43 shots mark the highest output from Erie this season.
The 67’s would add a late goal as Remy Giftopoulos got a puck past Dansk at 13:05 mark of the final stanza.
Other than the two blemishes, Dansk was solid in net en route to his eighth win of the season. The young Swede stopped 26-of-28 shots he faced in the contest.
In all, 11 different Otters registered at least one point, while McDowell led the way with three.
Aside from the win, Erie received some additional good news well before the puck dropped on Friday. Dane Fox, acquired with Troy Donnay from London a season ago, made his season debut against Ottawa after missing the first 29 games of the season recovering from foot surgery. Fox earned an assist playing on the fourth line with Pettit and Johnny McGuire.
It was the first time Knoblauch saw Fox in game action. So far, so good.
“(Fox) can be one of the best in the league,” Knoblauch said. “It really keeps the opposition on their toes because now we have four lines that are pretty reliable.”
Things should be a little more challenging for the Otters on Saturday. Erie will make a quick turnaround and play host to Midwest Division rival Guelph, slated for a 7 p.m. start. The last time the two teams locked horns, Guelph skated away with a 3-2 victory at Sleeman Centre on Nov. 23.
“Guelph is a good team,” Knoblauch said. “They are playing really well. (Friday) was our warm-up game and the tests will come later this weekend.”
It’s also a special night for the Otters, as the organization is holding its fifth annual Teddy Bear Toss. Fans are encouraged to bring a bear or other stuffed animal to throw on the ice after the Otters’ first goal. Last season, a total of 4,951 stuffed animals were collected and donated towards the Salvation Army and other Erie-area charities.
If the Otters fail to score in the contest, fans will be able to throw their Teddy Bear on the ice after the game is concluded.
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