Erie Scores Early and Often to Push Winning Streak to 5
The Erie Otters' offense was deadly Saturday night, scoring eight times to exted the club's win streak to five games.
By ALEX SIBLEY
During the 2001-02 championship season, the Erie Otters made the Tullio Arena a nightmare for the opposing team.
This year's team is following the same pattern.
Brett Appio and Shawn Szydlowski headlined the Otters' 8-3 win Saturday night against Midwest Division rival Guelph by scoring two goals each as the squad won their eighth straight game at home.
In all, 12 different Otters recorded at least one point, while seven collected at least two.
A night after they struggled throughout against Niagara, the Otters left little doubt from start to finish in this contest.
"It's a good thing to play well at home," coach Robbie Ftorek said. "All the teams that are good win at home. We were able to get some early goals, so it was good."
With the win, the team's fifth straight, their magic number to clinch a playoff spot dwindled to two points as Sault Ste. Marie earned just one point Saturday evening. More importantly, with the Windsor Spitfires losing to Plymouth, Erie is now in a tie for fifth place in the Western Conference, one point behind the Spits for the fourth playoff position, which would guarantee home ice advantage in the playoffs.
With the way they have played on home soil the last two months – a 10-1 record since a 3-2 win against Sudbury Dec. 10 – the Otters know how crucial the four-seed is.
"It's huge, especially with the kind of fans we have here," said Appio, whose two goals gave him 11 on the year, a career high. "We're striving for that spot."
When Erie is firing on all cylinders, it's a dangerous offense to handle. Guelph was just the latest victim to a unit that has scored 51 goals in eight games this month.
In the opening two periods, Erie got goals from Mike Cazzola, Appio, Brett Thompson and Phil Varone to make it 4-1, which was more than enough to lock up its 32nd win of the season
Thompson's goal was his 40th of the season and eighth in as many games, one shy of Brady Boyes' franchise record.
With everything going right, the Otters, who have been hampered by injuries all season, got a bit of a scare in the late stages of the middle frame.
Goaltender Ramis Sadikov, the top goalie in the wins department throughout the OHL, tweaked his right knee and was replaced by rookie Chris Festarini to start the third.
With Andrew Yogan returning for the first time this season after shoulder surgery, Erie was finally playing with the roster it intended to open the season with. So seeing Sadikov go down was the last thing the team wanted to see.
"You never want to see your starting goalie go down," said Szydlowski, who now has 35 goals, the most in his four-year OHL career. "He battles through most of his injuries, but he's really smart about what he can play with and what he can't."
General Manager Sherry Bassin confirmed between the second and third periods that it was just a strain and nothing that will keep him sidelined.
Even with that distraction, Erie continued to fire goals into the net.
After torching Garret Sparks for four goals on 25 shots, Brandon Foote took over between the pipes to start the third.
New goalie, same result.
Szydlowski scored twice, Brett Cook added his seventh goal of the season, while Appio scored a beauty as he danced around several defenders before sliding the puck between the legs to end the scoring for Erie in the one-sided affair. The three goals came 3 minutes, 23 seconds apart.
"We're a very dangerous team," Appio said. "Everyone has been saying that for a long time now. All four lines are clicking, the defense is solid and our goaltenders are winning games for us. We're just coming into our own."
Festarini, who's winless in his OHL career, allowed two goals on 10 shots – Brock McGinn's eighth of the season and Francis Menard's 10th.
The duo of Greg McKegg and Cazzola combined for six points, while Varone extended his point streak to 16 games.
~Alex Sibley covers sports for the Erie Reader. You can contact him at ASibley@Eriereader.com, or you can follow him on Twitter @ErieReaderSport.