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They’re Baaaack! London Starts Their Playoff Run

March 23, 2013

LondonKnightsThe London Knights started their quest to return to the Memorial Cup with a visit to the Budweiser Gardens from the Saginaw Spirit. After rolling off a 24 game win streak, the Knights were decidedly up and down for the remainder of the season.  Although minimal changes were made to the team at the trade deadline, the team struggled to find the form that made them so hard to beat during the streak.

With Plymouth, Kitchener and Belleville loading up, there were daily concerns about whether the Hunters had done enough to improve the team. Many questions were asked about chemistry after releasing overage goaltender Kevin Bailie and replacing him with giant-size Anthony Stolarz from the NCAA ranks. In addition to the goaltending change, the Knights swapped solid defenceman Kevin Raine for Justin Sefton and added defenceman Dakota Mermis. With the many changes, it wasn’t terribly surprising that they had some hiccups but there just wasn’t the consistent play throughout each game.

Then the injuries and suspensions hit. Instead of continuing his chase for the scoring crown, star Seth Griffith broke a finger and missed the remainder of the season. Matt Rupert, in the midst of his best offensive season, was suspended for 10 games including the first two playoff matches.  Captain Scott Harrington, their top defender, went out with an ‘upper-body’ injury.  The Knights depth was tested, but they managed to finish the season on top of the OHL with 50 wins and were able to rest a few of their key guys along the way.

Opening the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) playoffs, one might think the defending champion Knights would be heavily favoured, but doubts still seemed to bounce around the league. Plymouth is too strong, the Knights don’t have a Michael Houser or an Austin Watson. In short, London wasn’t as tough as their record showed.

Knights-SaginawOn Friday, it appeared that the boys were pumped up to show all the naysayers that the Knights were still the team to beat. London pumped 38 shots at the Spirit net and chased star goalie Jake Paterson from the game. Aside from a few short minutes near the end of the game, the Knights overpowered the visitors from Saginaw, leading to a 5-2 victory.

Max Domi dominated every time he was on the ice and with linemates Alex Broadhurst and Chris Tierney gave the Spirit all they could handle. Newcomer to OHL playoff hockey, Dakota Mermis, followed up a great rush by their line and popped in a rebound 5 minutes into the first period. Broadhurst would put the Knights up by 2 when he blasted a shot past Paterson to finish a beautiful three-way passing play from Domi and Tierney. And the Knights just kept coming.

Under a minute into the second, Domi would chip in a Maatta feed from in front of the crease on the powerplay and Josh Anderson would add to the lead with a roof job on a penalty shot.  Domi would score the 5th and final Knights’ goal before the Spirit ruined Stolarz’ bid for a first OHL playoff game, first OHL playoff shutout win. The game would devolve somewhat in the third period when Saginaw started some chippy play in an effort to let London know they weren’t going away.

After not seeing the boys for two weeks, the home crowd was treated to a fine display of their team’s depth. Veterans Seth Griffith, Ryan Rupert, Bo Horvat and Josh Anderson were all threatening around the net with Horvat missing a breakaway chance and being his solid defensive self throughout the game. Several players were playing in their first OHL playoff and rookies Miles Liberati, Remi Elie and Kyle Platzer were rolling – throwing checks, pinching in as required and pressuring all over the ice.

The game stars were awarded to the line of Domi, Tierney and Broadhurst, who owned the puck every time they hit the ice. Game 2 is Sunday afternoon back at the Budweiser Gardens and while Saginaw is expected to put up more of a fight, they will have to get their limited offence going and give Paterson a lot more help if they are to defeat the Knights. The key for London is to remember that Paterson can steal a game – and keep the pedal down when they get their chances.

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