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The Knights Are Back! Exh. Game 1: Knights 8 vs Sting 2

September 2, 2012

Its the start of the Labour Day long weekend here in Canada and its also the start of the London Knights’ exhibition season!  Hockey is back in town!  To be honest, though, it barely ever left.  With the Memorial Cup run finishing on May 27th, the OHL Import Draft held on June 27th, a welcome back event for the OHL Champs on July 31st prior to the team awards banquet, Londoners Jeff Carter and Drew Doughty toting the Stanley Cup through the streets on August 23rd and the Knights training camp opening on August 28th – there has been plenty of hockey news in London this summer.

Starting with the announcement in June that Dale Hunter would be back as the Knights’ head coach, there came a cascade of changes. Misha Donskov left for the next step in his career, moving on to assist the Ottawa 67s and Jeff Paul, from the London Nationals (Jr. B), was named his replacement as assistant coach. Greg McKegg, Austin Watson, Michael Houser, Vladislav Namestnikov, Jared Knight, and Jarred Tinordi are preparing for their pro careers, while Chris Martin and Brett Cook are graduating overagers.  Trades sent backup goalie Tyson Teichmann and disgruntled forward Andreas Athanasiou off for draft picks. This leaves gaping holes throughout the line-up, right?

Not so fast.  The Hunters picked up big defenseman Nikita Zadorov in the import draft as both insurance if Olli Maatta stuck with the Penguins and to make up the loss of Jarred Tinordi’s presence on the back end.  Kevin Bailie was acquired from Oshawa to be the veteran presence in net, but young Jake Patterson and new draftee Liam Herbst (out with double knee surgery) will be given the opportunity to back him up and show their stuff.  Another new face, Alex Broadhurst will be expected to act more as a veteran than as the rookie he technically is. And those are just some of the new guys!

So, how did the Knights fare in their first exhibition game of the pre-season?  On with the show!

I was excited for hockey but tempered my expectations because it was the first game of the pre-season.  Even though we were playing Sarnia, a team the Knights rarely need any reason to raise their game for, it was only game one.  I pointed out the key figures to my girlfriend, who is not an avid fan: Broadhurst, Nevins, Zadorov for the Knights and Connor Murphy for the Sting. As expected both teams appeared both nervous and rusty.  Before the ice was dry, the Sting had scored on a rebound off of Bailie that bounced off a defender and into the net. Ouch.

A short few minutes later, the Knights took the first of far too many penalties and zing! It was 2-0.  Girlfriend remarked that this was by far the most boring Knights game she’d seen and that the players resembled the between periods Timbits players. Ouch again.  The first period ended with the Sting ahead 2-0 and 16-9 in shots.

Weirdest thing so far? Number 18. Is not Vladislav Namestnikov.

The Hunters (Dylan and Dale) and Jeff Paul (new assistant coach) surely had to have said something to the effect of ‘let’s look like a Major Junior Hockey team, boys.’ In somewhat more descriptive language, I’m sure. Whatever was said, it generally worked. I say generally, because the Knights went on to score 8 straight goals over the next two periods and win the game, but it wasn’t a particularly beautiful effort. There were some great offensive plays, but a lot of missed passes and loose play allowing the opposition to get behind the defence. There were also some issues with puck possession in both ends.

Once the game was starting to get out of reach at 5-2, idiocy began to rear its ugly head.  After more pushing and shoving and some attempts to goad Knights into fights, a scrap finally broke out after a hit from behind near the benches. With about 5 minutes remaining, three Knights were turfed from the game and since one was Ryan Rupert, they decided that brother Matt should be in the box instead (he served Ryan’s 4 minute double-minor).  Cheers to rookie Kyle Platzer who scored a shortie during Matt’s time in the box!

Aside from the slow start and the sillyness at the end of the game, at the end of the night it was Knights 8 vs Sting 2 and there was much to be encouraged about with this year’s roster.

Kevin Bailie, G – Looked a bit nervous and shaky to start, some poor rebound control in the first period, but wasn’t getting a ton of help to start. Played much more confidently in the last two periods.

Nikita Zadorov, D – Big guy looked a little tentative early along with the rest of the team, but settled in nicely – even tried a few rushes towards the end of the second and into the third.  Looks confident with the puck.

Alex Broadhurst, C – This guy has hands. A hatty in his first OHL game action (ok, its pre-season, but a hatty is a hatty) and he definitely has a nose for the net. Looks like the Hunters have found some of their lost offence.

Jack Nevins, W – Honestly had no idea who this guy was when the trade was made.  Like what I see, a stand-up guy who digs, drives and will likely pop in a few. Sandpaper and glue type of player.

Various vets: Liked what I saw from Domi and Horvat. Hoping for more from Griffith, Anderson and Tierney. Harrington and Maatta looking to pick up right where they left off last season.

Only game 1, but the new guys look like they can fill some of the holes so far. Biggest loss is House and only time and games will tell if Bailie and co. are up to the job.

Note: Part of the idiocy in the third was due to a hit on Max Domi that left him on the ice (taking a shot to the head as well) and leaving the game shortly thereafter.

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