Ontario Hockey League Otters, McDavid helping to revive Erie hockey
ERIE — Erie Otters majority owner and general manager Sherry Bassin, 74 years young, was outraged during a recent game, banging the glass behind his team's net while attempting to alert referees.
The clock still was running, despite a stoppage of play, and Bassin was incensed. After all, he doesn't want his fans robbed of a second of this season. Erie never has seen anything quite like this.
Led by the young player many in the hockey world are calling “the next Sidney Crosby,” the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League have helped revitalize downtown Erie and have big dreams entering the postseason. Erie begins its playoff run Friday night at home against the Saginaw Spirit.
“We've got a special group of kids here,” Bassin said. “And people have responded to them.”
Playing in the newly renovated Erie Insurance Arena, the Otters have played before recent crowds nearing 7,000.
It wasn't always this way.
“I was kind of disappointed that there weren't more fans during my first season here,” said 17-year-old Connor McDavid, who likely will be the top pick of the 2015 NHL Entry Draft and is the most hyped hockey player since Crosby.
“But I was told that, if we started winning, the crowds would come. And that's exactly what's happened. It's been very exciting around here.”
Starting in December, the Otters started playing before standing room-only sellouts.
They haven't stopped.
“The Otters have always been a source of pride for our city,” Erie Mayor Joe Sinnott told the Tribune-Review. “This year's success has taken that to a new level.”
Restaurants and hotels in Erie have experienced the benefits of the Otters success.
“It's tough to put a number on how much money we've made because of them,” said Kim Millimaci, the manager of The Brewery at Union Station. “But I can tell you that when they play at home, we are packed before games. All you can see is Otters jerseys.”
The mayor is delighted with what he has seen.
“When a team has a season like this,” Sinnott said, “it has an economic impact on the community.”
Fans attending Otters games haven't seen boring hockey. The Otters possess the OHL's leading scorer (Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Connor Brown, 128 points), its leading goal scorer (Vancouver Canucks prospect Dane Fox, 64 goals) and McDavid, who has 99 points in only 56 games.
“I'd be lying if I said it hasn't been a lot of fun,” Fox said. “I think people like watching us play, and we sure like playing in front of them.”
McDavid is the center of Erie's success. Crosby told the Tribune-Review in 2012 that McDavid “reminds me a lot of myself,” and his performance backs up Crosby's observation. Bassin believes McDavid's behavior off the ice is a key component to Erie's love affair with this team.
“He's great,” Bassin said. “And he's also like other superstars in our game. Mario Lemieux? Great human being. Sidney Crosby? Great human being. And Connor is just like them. He was signing autographs once and the session was over, but he saw a girl in a wheelchair and went out of his way to spend some time with her. That's just who he is.”
The old guard
Bassin, the only general manager the Otters have known, long possessed a vision of this team. His Otters scored an eye-popping 4.7 goals per game this season.
Bassin is good friends with former Penguins coach and general manager Eddie Johnston, who infamously made sure the Penguins were in good shape to draft Mario Lemieux in 1984. He didn't tank games a few seasons back to earn the top pick, but Bassin knew McDavid could change everything.
“I remember when I first saw him play,” Bassin said. “It took about two shifts, and I knew.”
Bassin is a beloved OHL figure. His players make it clear they are playing hard for their suddenly rabid fan base.
They're playing for Bassin, too.
“He's a great person, a great owner,” McDavid said. “Everything this season has been pretty special.”
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Hit sends Penguins’ Letang to hospital
- Penguins minor league notebook: WBS players eager for possible NHL playoff call-up
- Penguins notebook: Johnston stays with team despite mother’s death
- Downie’s goal, fight spark Penguins to win over Coyotes
- Players respect coach, refuse to blame Johnston
- Penguins coach Johnston’s mother dies
- Penguins notebook: Malkin likely to return Saturday
- Penguins’ protracted slump continues with 5-2 loss at Carolina
- Steen’s overtime goal boosts Blues over Penguins, 3-2
- Penguins defensemen Letang, Martin embrace heavy workload
- Penguins’ Dupuis will not return this season