Connor McDavid will be hitting the ice at the First Niagara Center sooner than we expected.
Of course, he won’t exactly be in the Sabres blue and gold just yet. Instead, McDavid and the OHL’s Erie Otters are headed to Buffalo to play a regular-season game against the Niagara Ice Dogs on Wednesday, October 22 at 7 p.m.
Tickets for the game will go on sale at 9 a.m. on September 13th, with 100 and 200 level tickets going for $15 to the public. Sabres season ticket holders will get a discount, with tickets costing $10.
Otters brass, including former Sabres player Jay McKee, along with McDavid, were in Buffalo on Thursday to announce the game.
Last season was the best one in recent years for the Erie Otters. They finished the regular season with 106 points — more than the previous two seasons combined. The Otters finished third in the Western Conference and ultimately made it to the third round of the OHL playoffs before being eliminated by eventual league champions Guelph Storm.
As someone who has been following the OHL, and the Erie Otters in particular, for a handful of years, I can say without a doubt that last season was an incredible one. Everything just seemed to click. It was a 100+ point season, which is even more incredible when you consider that the previous two years saw the Otters put up 47 and 26 points. What changed, exactly, I’m not sure, but it was incredible to watch the team’s transformation.
It was the best season since 2010-11 for Erie. That year, they had 82 points and finished 5th in the Western Conference. There were a few familiar names on the roster that year, including current Sabres prospect Phil Varone, who had 34 goals and 48 assists. Toronto Maple Leafs prospect Greg McKegg led the Otters with 92 points, the most of any individual in recent team history up until this season. Former Sabres prospect Shawn Szydlowski was also on the team and put up 78 points.
I can’t honestly say that Connor McDavid was the sole determining factor in the Otters’ recent improvements. His rookie season (2012-13) saw Erie put up 47 points on the year. McDavid had 66 points, and he was just 15 when that season began. This past season, things just came together.
Dane Fox, a Vancouver Canucks prospect, had an incredible 64-goal campaign, and captain Connor Brown scored 128 points, most of any player in any of the Canadian Hockey League branches. (Anthony Mantha was next with 120 points). Oscar Dansk and Devin Williams were solid in net, and Andre Burakovsky, Dylan Strome and Brendan Gaunce were welcome additions to the team.
Combine all that with a strong fanbase and a newly-refurbished arena and it was a recipe for success.
Some of last year’s Otters will not be returning to the team this season but instead head off to college or the American Hockey League, so it’ll be interesting to see what the team can do without its missing pieces. Guys like McDavid and Strome will have to step up big time to fill those gaps.
So, Sabres fans, get ready. Connor McDavid will take the ice at the First Niagara Center for the first time in just over two months. Will he be back in Buffalo in the blue and gold someday?