No matter how much hype may be surrounding Connor McDavid as the June draft grows closer, one thing remains the same and that’s McDavid’s focus on taking his Erie Otters to the Memorial Cup and getting there as OHL champions. To do so, the "underdog" Otters will have to get by the Oshawa Generals.
McDavid, the Otters captain and OHL’s leading post-season scorer, acknowledged in a conference call Wednesday that this could very well be the first and only chance he and his teammates have at winning the Robertson Cup as OHL champions.
“Last year was a good experience for a lot of our guys,” McDavid said. “A couple years earlier we weren’t very good at all, not even making the playoffs…But you usually don’t get two chances at this. We’re fortunate to get through the last round and we’re excited to play the Generals and compete for the trophy.”
It seems strange to believe any team McDavid is on could be considered lucky to get by anyone, but McDavid’s sentiment was echoed throughout the conference call. In the Western Conference final, the Otters took on a Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds squad that many had picked to win the OHL, if not the Memorial Cup.
“We felt very fortunate to get through that series,” said Otters coach Kris Knoblauch. “With the play of some of our players, some of them really elevated their games, Connor being one of them.”
Elevated his game he did. In the six-game Western Conference final against the Greyhounds, McDavid seemingly scored at will. After starting the series off with a hat trick in Game 1, he ended the series with one goal and five points as the Otters cruised to a 7-3 victory in Game 6. Over the course of the round, McDavid notched eight goals and 19 points. Again, that’s in six games.
Things won’t be as easy in the final, however. No defense in the OHL was as stingy as the Generals’. Through 68 games, coach D.J. Smith’s club only surrendered 157 tallies against them, but they know that shutting down McDavid and company won’t come easy.
“They have some special players that other teams that we have played do not,” said Smith. “We’re going to have to make sure that we’re aware when they’re on the ice at all times. Our team is going to have to be 20 guys playing their best game every night.”
And Smith is right. If the Generals aren’t playing superb defensive hockey every time Erie is on the attack, there could be a flood of pucks into the Oshawa net. Considering that McDavid does have 19 goals and 42 points in 15 playoff games, however, it’s clear who Smith and his defense need to stop the most. Shutting down McDavid – whose scoring ability Smith called “outlandish” – won’t come easy, though.
“The five guys that are on the ice have to commit to doing it,” said Smith. “If one of those five guys aren’t, then it’s going to be a lot more difficult. We’re not going to try to shut him down, we’re going to try to limit his chances and, in doing so, hopefully the numbers go down.”
During the two regular season meetings between the clubs, McDavid wasn’t in the lineup due to a broken hand. That said, he doesn’t see the regular season inexperience against Oshawa providing the Generals defense, nor himself, an edge.
“The post-season is a different game compared to the season,” said McDavid. “It wouldn’t have really mattered had I played in those two games. They know what to expect. I’m sure they’ve watched video and we’ve done the same.”
McDavid did say that he feels the Otters are, again, coming into the series as the underdogs. Oshawa was one of the top teams in the country for most of the season and their vaunted defense could cause problems for the Otters. But the underdog mindset, McDavid said, is one his team is comfortable with.
No matter how big the hype surrounding McDavid, no matter how much film either team watches, what the series will boil down to is what happens on the ice. Both teams are ready to go, and McDavid, who is almost certainly playing the final OHL playoff games of his career, is just the same.
“(All the praise) is nice, but it really doesn’t matter,” said McDavid. “What goes on on the ice is what matters, and the preview stuff is fun, but I think we’re just excited to get to it.”
Game 1 of the OHL final begins Friday at 7:30 ET in Oshawa.