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Congratulations to Knights’ OHL All-Stars!

May 10, 2012

The accolades just keep rolling in for London Knights goaltender, Michael Houser, who was named to the OHL first All-Star team along with teammate Scott Harrington.  Regular season lead scorer, Seth Griffith, also had his fine season acknowledged by the OHL GMs, and was named a second team All-Star at right wing.  This is the third award in recent weeks for Houser, after being named both OHL Goaltender of the Year and OHL League MVP. Of note, while Harrington was drafted in the 2nd round by the Pittsburgh Penguins, neither Houser nor Griffith have been drafted – here’s hoping the NHL is paying attention!

On Friday Knight at the John Labatt Centre (JLC), Houser hopes to add one more OHL accolade to his mantlepiece as the Knights have a prime opportunity to close out the OHL Championship series with a win on home ice. Given the magnitude of his contribution to their playoff run, if the series finishes tomorrow and even if it goes another game or two, but the Knights still win; he will be in the running for playoff MVP as well. Pretty heady stuff for a young team that was supposed to run into a brick wall when they faced the seasoned Niagara IceDogs.

To Mark Hunter and his coaching staff as well as the players, Niagara has been just another team. Another team with a star-studded line-up and a wealth of experience, but just another team all the same.  The strategy that the players have bought into has been evident in every game. Even the double OT loss didn’t faze the Knights.  They knew they’d been in position to win and were the same single bounce away from victory as the IceDogs.  Its easy to say that its been on the back of Houser’s stellar play that they’ve won – but it is the commitment to defence, willingness to throw themselves into the path of shots from the likes of Jamie Oleksiak and Dougie Hamilton and patience to accept the roles in which their coaching staff has cast them, that has allowed them to win the past three straight games.

The Knights have had contributions on both sides of the puck from every player from the back end out.  Goaltending, while never a given, was expected to be an asset and Houser hasn’t let them down.  Their defence corps has been led by the big man, captain Jarred Tinordi, along with Harrington and a phenomenal performance from leading scorer, rookie Olli Maatta. Lesser known but key players have been shutdown guys Brett Cook, Tommy Hughes and Kevin Raine who have played in the shadow of their mates, but are reliable and provide the necessary additional sandpaper in front of the net.

Along with scoring, the forwards have each shown some trademark skills – Griffith and Vladislav Namestnikov lead the scoring, but have also been seen hitting and blocking shots; Austin Watson is a shot-blocking machine, but pots his chances when he gets them; Gregg McKegg hasn’t been the same points-wise since the injury he suffered in the Saginaw series, but his face-off prowess has provided consistent puck possession; and Ryan Rupert has been his edgiest best, especially in Niagara’s home rink. The rest of the forwards have been effective in chipping in some offence, fore-checking and fearlessly blocking shots – contributing in whatever manner is asked of them.

Prior to the start of the series, the breakdown appeared fairly even between the two teams with Niagara winning on maturity.  4 game in, it appears that London’s depth and commitment to a team game may trump that maturity. Never count the IceDogs out, but they’ll be hard pressed to beat the Knights on home ice this time around.

Note: Olli Maatta left Game 4 favouring his shoulder/arm after a hit from Brett Ritchie (I think), no word on his status… Big loss on the blueline, but look for some Hunter magic if he has to sit – several options: giving Raine more ice time and/or sliding Tyler Ferry back to the blueline and adding two of Horvat/Athanasiou/Welychka.  Let’s hope that Olli is just a bit banged up and is good to go.

UPDATE!: Olli Maatta is in the line-up tonight! Unfortunately Jared Knight is out… He did leave in discomfort last game.

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