In 2015 the Oshawa Generals added Michael McCarron and Dakota Mermis, last spring the London Knights benefitted from the addition of shutdown defender Jacob Graves who registered a plus-26 rating in the OHL Playoffs.
While a pre-existing core featuring captain Dylan Strome, OHL scoring champion Alex DeBrincat, brothers Darren and Taylor Raddysh and a host of others has brought the Erie Otters great success, general manager Dave Brown knew his club’s championship window wouldn’t stay open forever.
On the brink of their fourth straight 50-win season after failing to capture the coveted J. Ross Robertson Cup in the previous three, the Otters knew this needed to be their year and Brown acted accordingly, making a splash at the OHL trade deadline.
The Otters acquired Carolina Hurricanes prospect Warren Foegele from the Kingston Frontenacs on January 2nd before following up with the addition of Tampa Bay Lightning draftee and Canadian National Junior Team participant Anthony Cirelli from the Oshawa Generals seven days later.
The two highly-regarded players helped guide the Otters to a 24-6-0-0 mark post-deadline, eventually bringing an OHL title to Erie for the first time since 2002, both playing very important roles while seeing ice in all situations.
Foegele scored one of the biggest goals of the 2017 OHL Playoffs, defeating the defending Mastercard Memorial Cup champion London Knights in overtime of Game 7 to push the Otters into the Western Conference Final. The Markham native followed up with great penalty killing and timely scoring in Erie’s 4-2 series win over the Owen Sound Attack before collecting eight points in the Rogers OHL Championship Series against Mississauga to receive the Wayne Gretzky ’99’ Award as OHL Playoff MVP.
“There’s a lot of great names on that trophy and to have mine on it is kind of beyond words,” said Foegele, reflecting upon his playoff accomplishment. “Coming to Erie has been an awesome experience. I can’t thank my teammates enough for making me feel a part of things and for Coach Knoblauch who has really helped me develop in the second half of the season.”
Cirelli’s versatile skill set and ability to adapt to any number of situations has proved valuable in Erie. His display at the World Juniors confirmed several things to Otters brass before they settled on the decision to reach an agreement with Oshawa.
“We got a free look at Anthony just by way of Kris’ involvement as an assistant with the World Junior Team,” said Brown. “I had a discussion with him around the 20th of December and he more or less said that we should be 100 percent on finding a way to bring in Anthony.
“Generals owner Rocco Tullio and general manager Roger Hunt had tremendous things to say about his character and ability and all of those things have shone through in his time with us.”
Cirelli finished tied for the playoff lead in goals with 15, scoring the biggest of them all in overtime of Game 5 in the Rogers OHL Championship Series. Cirelli, who also scored the Mastercard Memorial Cup overtime winning goal for the Oshawa Generals in 2015, took a power play feed from Strome to beat Mississauga Steelheads goaltender Matthew Mancina and ignite the championship celebration in the Flagship City.
A former captain in Oshawa, he boasts strong leadership skills and like Foegele, takes pride in hard work and preparation. He’s happy to do whatever is asked of him with the Otters.
“They brought me here to help them win,” Cirelli said. “I’m a veteran guy and I’ve got some experience, but this is Stromer’s team and he’s an unbelievable captain for us. We’re a tight group and under his leadership we’re all working together.”
Having hoisted the Robertson Cup twice in franchise history, only one frontier remains unconquered for the Otters – capturing the Memorial Cup.
Brown has endured everything from 10 and 19 win seasons in his first two years with the organization to seeing the high-flying skills of Connor McDavid kick off a run of four straight trips to the Western Conference Final (2014-2017).
With Foegele and Cirelli in the fold, Brown is confident that the the right people are in place for the organization to accomplish its ultimate goal at the Mastercard Memorial Cup in Windsor.
“We’ve come a long way, and those two have been excellent fits for us,” he concluded.
“They’re both salt of the earth guys. Tremendous young men.”