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Knights Home Opener!

September 23, 2012

From the re-naming of Market Lane to London Knights Way, to bringing out the hardware from the 2011-12 season, to raising the championship banners – there was a lot of ceremony leading up to puck drop at the London Knights’ home opener. The newly named Budweiser Gardens loudly welcomed back the Knights’ graduated stars: Austin Watson, Vladislav Namestnikov, Greg McKegg, Jared Knight, Jarred Tinordi and Michael Houser. Tinordi gave a rousing speech to thank the fans, billets, teammates and the Knights staff for a brilliant season while encouraging the current roster to continue the Knights’ winning ways.

Despite the delays the current team opened their 2012-13 OHL season with a 8-2 thumping of the Erie Otters, last year’s cellar dwellers. Despite the score, the Otters can’t help but be better this year – for the simple fact that they introduce the OHL’s latest exceptional player, Connor McDavid. Based on the interview CJBK conducted with Sherry Bassin, GM of the Otters, he’s not only an exceptional athlete, but a good kid all around. McDavid took the opportunity to show some of versatility and resilience, scoring his first OHL goal to tie the game early in the first period and hopping up after taking a solid check from none other than Ryan Rupert.

That check would spark the game’s first fight, with former Knight Troy Donnay taking on Rupert. Tally 1 each on the fight sheet, once that gets close to 10, you may see some players pick their spots as the new fighting rules take effect. Once a player is assessed his 11th major penalty for fighting, an automatic 2 game suspension is applied. If, after the 10th major, an instigator penalty is applied, the suspension is increased to 4 games. For every fighting major after 15; the player receives a 2 game suspension and his team is fined $1K. As the CJBK team (Jim Van Horne & Mike Stubbs) mentioned, this may deter players from the fisticuffs once the game is out of hand (as was the case in this game).

Last year there were many comments of non-London fans turning off the games because ‘all they do is trap.’ Welcome to a different team, everybody. The Knights aren’t going to stop playing defence, but there is a lot of offensive dazzle on that bench. Alex Broadhurst and Max Domi, two game-time decisions due to illness and injury, popped in one each and veteran Seth Griffith, playing with the Rupert twins scooped up the sombrero with the year’s first hat trick. Don’t expect that much offence every night, but given the opportunity, London will be scoring with regularity.

One of the Knights’ players to watch was big Nikita Zadorov. Brought in to help out a back end that lost captain Jarred Tinordi, Zadorov dealt some thundering bodychecks, played solid defence and lugged the puck a bit. In a change of pace,  he didn’t back down from an invitation to dance from Erie tough guy Johnny McGuire early in the second period after leveling J.P. Labardo in the first. From the pre-season, it looked like he might need some time to adjust, to both his teammates and the rinks, but apparently the adjustment period is over.

With the offence clicking and the defence appearing to gel, the last line of defence would be the goaltending.  Kevin Bailie took the crease for the opener, but the battle for the crease appears to be much more competitive than it has been in the past couple years. The 8-2 score was hardly indicative of Bailie’s performance, as the Otters struggled to muster up any offence at all, only managing 28 shots to the home team’s 54. With star goalie Michael Houser moving on to the pro ranks, it will fall on Bailie and Jake Patterson to take up the slack.

It was a great opening night for the defending OHL champs. The sold-out crowd was treated to a banner raising and sent the old crew off with a rousing cheer and a statement game, albeit over a much weaker opponent.  Couldn’t ask for more to start of the new season.  The Knights will have to pay much more attention to defence when they head to Guelph on Sunday to face the much tougher Storm.

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