ERIE, Pa. - Connor McDavid heard plenty about Max Domi growing up because they played hockey a couple of years apart in the Toronto area.
McDavid got to know Domi more when they won gold together on Canada's world junior team.
Familiarity is nice, but now it's up to McDavid and the Erie Otters to try to stop Domi's London Knights in an Ontario Hockey League second-round playoff series beginning Thursday.
"Obviously it's never a lot of fun to play Max," McDavid said with a laugh. "He's obviously an unbelievable player and he's tough to chase around the ice."
The Otters-Knights Western Conference semifinal features some scintillating top-end talent. Beyond McDavid, Erie has OHL scoring leader Dylan Strome and rookie of the year Alex Debrincat, and London has top-10 draft prospect Mitchell Marner along with Arizona Coyotes prospect Christian Dvorak.
All five of those players finished in the top 10 in scoring, including Marner, who was second to Strome. Marner has an OHL-best 15 playoff points from six games in the first round against Kitchener.
Otters coach Kris Knoblauch has to worry about the matchup difficulties Dale Hunter's Knights present. Still, he can appreciate the entertainment value of this series.
"I think for the fans it's a great experience to come and watch these games," Knoblauch said after practice Wednesday at Erie Insurance Arena. "You've got Domi, who was so good at the world juniors and has been so good in this league for four years, Marner, the season he's had, and then on our side Dylan Strome and Connor McDavid. All those players are going to be in the NHL."
The Otters dominated the Knights in the regular season, going 5-0-1 with the only blemish a shootout loss in October. Knoblauch expects the playoff version of London to present a different and more difficult challenge, and his players seem to understand that.
"Obviously it's one of the premier markets in the league and when you go there you want to win in front of 10,000 fans," Strome said. "We just get kind of jacked up to play them. But regular season means nothing when playoff time comes."
That starts with Domi, who at 19 was named the best forward at the world juniors and is the Coyotes' top prospect. The son of former Maple Leafs tough guy Tie Domi made an impression on McDavid when they were teammates in Montreal and Toronto a few months ago.
"The power he has and how unbelievable he is ??? he's a great player and has a lot of talent," McDavid said. "When he puts his mind to something, he's almost unstoppable."
If Domi is unstoppable in this series, the Otters' OHL title and Memorial Cup dreams will be gone. Knoblauch considers it a five-man effort on the ice in front of the goal to contain Domi.
The key might be keeping an eye on him but not sticking so close that he can turn on the after burners and blow past defenders.
"You don't back pressure hard on (Domi)," Knoblauch said. "It's just difficult for the defencemen ??? they don't know if he's going to delay or drive wide because he's dangerous. He's a dangerous shooter or a playmaker."
The top-seeded Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds were set to open the other West semifinal against the Guelph Storm on Wednesday. The Eastern Conference's No. 1 seed, the Oshawa Generals, face the Niagara IceDogs beginning Friday, while the Barrie Colts meet the North Bay Battalion.
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