I don’t think hockey fans could ask for a greater matchup than the Erie Otters vs. the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the OHL’s Western Conference final series. These are two epic powerhouse teams that will be battling it out. Often, the west is strong but often there is a clear cut favourite. In this series, anything could happen.
The best part is, the Robertson Cup finals will not be anti-climatic. Once these two battle and a team (the Greyhounds) is declared the winner, they must then face what should be a tough customer from the east. As much as my household always wants a London and Barrie Colts final, the true hockey fans in us want the Hounds against the Oshawa Generals. But, first the conference finals.
Erie and Sault Ste. Marie have met twice before in the playoffs. Both times, the two teams faced off in the conference semis. In 1999-00, it was a tough series with the Greyhounds coming out on top in seven games. This past year, 2013-14, the teams met again, this time the Otters won in a sweep.
1999-00 Western Conference Semi-Final
As mentioned, the series went the full seven games with the Soo advancing. However, it wasn’t easy. The home team won each of the first six games. The first two games were decided in overtime and Erie held a 3-2 series lead after five games. In game seven, the Greyhounds shutout the Otters for the second time in the series.
Erie finished first in the Midwest Division with just 73 points. Coached by Dave MacQueen and led offensively by Brad Boyes, the Otters beat the seventh seed Brampton Battalion to earn the matchup against the Greyhounds. On the blue line, Erie was led by Carlo Colaiacovo.
Sault Ste. Marie finished second in the West Division with 85 points, behind the Plymouth Whalers. The Paul Theriault coached Greyhounds beat the sixth seed Kitchener Rangers in the opening round and fell to the Whalers in the conference finals. Offensively, the Sault was led by Ryan Jardine, Josef Vasicek and Cory Pecker. Although he was a backup and saw limited action during the regular season of his rookie year, goaltender Ray Emery saw the bulk of the action for the Greyhounds in the playoffs.
2013-14 Western Conference Semi-Finals
This series wasn’t quite as closely fought as the one a decade and a half before. The Otters swept the Greyhounds in four games. Games two and three were shutouts for Erie. Game four was decided in overtime with a goal by Joel Wigle.
Erie, despite collecting 106 points, finished second in the Midwest and second overall in the OHL behind the Guelph Storm. In the opening round, the Otters beat their American counterparts, the Saginaw Spirit, in five games. They would go on to lose in five to the Storm in the Western Conference finals. Current head coach Kris Knoblauch was behind the bench and the team got big numbers from Connor Brown, Dane Fox, Connor McDavid and Brendan Gaunce.
The Greyhounds finished first in the West Division with 95 points. In the opening round, it took five games for Sault Ste. Marie to eliminate the Owen Sound Attack. As is the case this year, Sheldon Keefe was the team’s head coach. The Hounds were led offensively by Sergey Tolchinsky with Darnell Nurse powering the blue line.
The Greyhounds have been in the Ontario Hockey League since the 1972-73 season. They are chasing their fourth championship after beating the Peterborough Petes in 1984-85, Oshawa Generals in 1990-91 and the North Bay Centennials in 1991-92. The Sault has made four Memorial Cup tournament appearances, winning the championship in 1993.
The Otters have been in Erie since 1996-97. However, the franchise dates back to 1946-47 when they were the Windsor Spitfires. Along the way, they have been the Hamilton Tiger Cubs, Hamilton Red Wings, Hamilton Fincups, Hamilton Steelhawks, St. Catherines Fincups, Brantford Alexanders and Niagara Falls Thunder.
Erie’s only championship to date came in 2001-02, taking out the Barrie Colts in the finals. At the Memorial Cup, the Otters fell in the semi-final game.