WINDSOR, Ont. — Erie Otters coach Kris Knoblauch caught his team off guard in the second intermission, showing his players a different side of him they’re not used to in an attempt to motivate the room.
They responded in a big way.
Dylan Strome and German Poddubnyi scored 1:07 apart early in the third period as Erie went on to a 6-3 victory over the Saint John Sea Dogs to advance to the Memorial Cup final.
"Coach had a real good intermission pep talk, going around the room telling us what we need to do, what we’re good at, fired me up," said Strome.
"He’s never really done that before, came in and said a lot," added Taylor Raddysh, who had a pair of goals in the victory. "It’s good when a coach comes in like that, gives you positive emotion."
Erie will face the Windsor Spitfires in Sunday’s championship. The host team earned their way into the final with three straight wins in round-robin action, including a 4-2 victory over the Otters.
The Ontario Hockey League champion Otters are one win away from their ultimate goal. While an OHL title was part of the process, it served only as a warmup en route to what they really wanted to accomplish this season — the national championship.
Erie has kept a sign in their dressing room all season listing three numbers: 5-28-17.
"We look at it before going on the ice every time," said Strome, the team captain "We’ve had this date on the board a long time."
Darren Raddysh and Warren Foegele also scored for the Otters (3-1). Troy Timpano made 20 saves while Alex DeBrincat had three assists.
Joe Veleno, Julien Gauthier and Thomas Chabot scored for the Sea Dogs (1-3), the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champions. Callum Booth stopped 31-of-36 shots in defeat.
Darren Raddysh opened the scoring 9:59 in with an unbelievable solo effort.
After winning the race to a loose puck in the Saint John corner to negate an icing, he spun off his defender and brought it backhand to forehand before snapping a shot up and over Booth.
"Pretty good goal, he made a good spin move there, had some pretty good hands in front for a defenceman," Taylor said about his older brother’s third goal of the tournament.
Veleno tied the game with 5:50 to go in the period when he batted a rebound out of mid-air past Timpano.
The Otters started to take over near the midway point of the period and re-took the lead on a power play when Taylor Raddysh beat Booth blocker side from the hashmarks at 10:57.
Discipline became an issue for Saint John in the second, taking four straight minors, but a combination of Booth’s play and some luck limited Erie’s power play to just the one goal.
Taylor Raddysh thought he made it 3-1 with 1:09 to play in the period on a play that had both teams confused, but the goal was called back because of a delayed penalty call on the Otters.
The no-goal call proved to be big at the time as Gauthier responded on the man advantage with 40 seconds remaining in the period to send it to intermission tied.
Strome finally made good on one of his scoring chances, beating Booth with a wrist shot between the legs 2:38 into the third. Then Poddubnyi doubled Erie’s lead off a turnover, snapping a shot blocker side on Booth.
"We fought like hell to make it 2-2," said Sea Dogs coach Danny Flynn. "They got two quickies and had us on our heels."
Taylor Raddysh added his second, banging in a rebound with less than eight minutes to play.
Chabot got one back for the Sea Dogs with 3:32 to play.
Booth then went to the bench for an extra attacker with 3:01 to go, but Foegele added an empty netter to seal the victory.
Taylor Raddysh heads into Sunday’s final as the tournament’s leading scorer with five goals and 11 points. He says he’d give up all his personal achievements this year just to beat Windsor.
"We knew it wasn’t going to be easy getting here, 5-28-17, we’re there now," he said.