It all came down to one game. And the Erie Otters took it.
The Otters defeated the London Knights 4-2 on Saturday in a winner-take-all contest to determine not only the OHL’s Midwest Division, but the league regular season crown as well.
Taylor Raddysh scored twice, while Vanya Lodnia and Nick Betz added singles. Betz closed out the scoring with an empty-netter. Captain Dylan Strome registered three assists. Max Jones and Aaron Berisha responded for the Knights.
The Knights led the Otters in the standings by two points coming into the game after edging Erie 4-3 at home on Friday, their ninth win in a row. The Otters needed a regulation win to tie the Knights with 105 points and got it. They held the tiebreaker by having 52 wins compared to London’s 51.
"We wanted that No. 1 seed," London co-captain Christian Dvorak told Ryan Pyette of the London Free Press. "But we don't need to hang our heads here. We might see them (the Otters) again and maybe this (chase) will be good for us.
"We played some good hockey during this stretch run. Now, it's time to get ready for the playoffs.”
The Otters host the Saginaw Spirit in Game 1 of the Western Conference quarter-final on Friday. The teams were separated by 49 points. The Knights face off against the Owen Sound Attack, a series which also begins Friday.
The Otters would now have home-ice advantage if the two teams met in the Western Conference final. Erie and London have been two of the highest profile CHL teams all season.
The Otters became the first team in OHL history to record three straight 50-win seasons earlier in the month. They've been the CHL's top team in the weekly rankings all season. They're led by Strome, the No. 1-ranked player in the newest edition of THN Future Watch, who was fourth in OHL scoring with 111 points after leading the league a year ago. Joining him is Canadian world junior teammate Travis Dermott and American Alex DeBrincat. DeBrincat scored 50 goals for the second consecutive season and is eligible for the 2016 NHL draft.
The Knights are star-studded as well. Co-captains Christian Dvorak and Mitch Marner finished second and third in OHL scoring (121 and 116 points, respectively) and are 10th and third on the THN Future Watch list. They also have a slew of top-tier draft-eligible skaters on their roster from Jones to Matthew Tkachuk to Olli Juolevi. Tkachuk, son of former NHL left winger Keith, and Juolevi are slotted fourth and eighth in Future Watch.