Two of the better teams in the OHL met on Sunday when the Niagara IceDogs hosted the Erie Otters on the final day of the regular season.
Both teams entered this contest having won nine of 10, and it was easy to see why throughout this back-and-forth and highly entertaining game.
While the Otters did sit a few regulars (notably Connor McDavid, along with some OA defensemen) they still had a ton of talent in the lineup. Draft eligibles Dylan Strome and Travis Dermott were among those dressing for Erie, along with Alex DeBrincat (2016 eligible), Nick Baptiste (BUF), and a handful of other well known names.
On the other side, Niagara was still fighting for home ice in their 1st round series vs Ottawa, so they dressed a full lineup that featured Brendan Perlini (ARI), Josh Ho-Sang (NYI), Ryan Mantha (NYR) and draft eligible defenseman Vince Dunn, among others.
As usual, I tracked four players in this one. For Erie I kept my eye on projected top-5 pick Dylan Strome, and defenseman Travis Dermott (likely a 2nd or early 3rd round pick) while for Niagara I tracked the always exciting Josh Ho-Sang, as well as rising defenseman Vince Dunn.
Final score: 8-7 Erie.
Dylan Strome was flanked by a pair of highly skilled, responsible wingers in DeBrincat and Baptiste, so starting this line away from offensive zone didn’t seem like much of a concern. Erie’s coaching staff didn’t really have much choice, though, as Niagara carried play at even-strength for much of the game, and spent a lot of time in Erie’s zone.
Travis Dermott Erie’s best offensive defenseman, and the Otters trailed for much of the game, so naturally a good portion of his shifts started in the offensive zone. They wanted to put him in a position to create offense whenever they could.
Dunn is also the best offensive defenseman on his team, and it isn’t close. As you’d expect, he started a lot more shifts in the offensive zone than defensive zone, but part of that can probably be attributed to Niagara getting so many offensive zone starts.
Josh Ho-Sang’s line was asked to do the heavy lifting for Niagara. Given his ability to drive play up ice, which you’ll see below, it was probably the right decision.
Not bad. Again, shall we?
Strome was by no means a neutral zone king in this one, but he put forth a respectable effort. He had a few good entries that led to scoring chances despite clearly being the No. 1 focus for Niagara’s defense. As soon as he got close to the blue line Niagara’s defensemen would aggressively step up, and either stick check him or lay the body. Vince Dunn seemed particularly good at preventing entries, though I don’t have the exact numbers.
Dermott started a lot of shifts in the offensive zone, but this was a very back-and-forth wide open game, so he had plenty of opportunities to rush the puck up ice. He enjoyed pretty good success while doing so.
Dunn is a very smooth skater with good puck skills, so Erie’s defense was forced to back off regularly when they saw him rushing the puck up ice.
Lastly we have Josh Ho-Sang, who put on a clinic through the neutral zone. You’ve already seen a couple examples of what he did in this one, so not much else needs to be said.
Strome spent a good amount of his shifts chasing the puck in the defensive zone, and certainly didn’t have his best possession game. That said, he still managed to put up a career-high six points (four goals, two assists). I think that speaks volumes as to how good Strome really is. Despite having some key players out of the lineup, and playing tough minutes against a very good team, he still managed to pile up the points. He didn’t have a ton of opportunities, but because of his high-end skill he was able to make the most of pretty much all of them.
Dermott had a rough night and was crushed in possession despite getting plenty of offensive zone starts. I guess no Connor McDavid + playing primarily against Brendan Perlini’s line and Josh Ho-Sang’s line will do that to you. Dermott still managed to get on the scoresheet, though, as he scored the eventual game-winning-goal late in the 3rd on a power play.
Dunn put forth arguably the most dominant effort I’ve seen since I started tracking junior hockey games. Sure he started a fair chunk of his shifts in the offensive zone, but he was exceptional through the neutral zone in both a) rushing the puck and; b) preventing zone entries. He scored on an absolute snipe off the far post and in, and also recorded an assist in what turned out to be a losing effort.
Ho-Sang was exceptional, too. He used his dynamic skating ability and puck skills to dominate the neutral zone, and he crushed Erie in possession despite a good chunk of defensive zone starts. It looks like the Islanders have another very good, young forward on the way.
If you use or share this data, please cite this blog as the resource. Thanks!