Knights prep for season opener

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:13 AM ET

Last spring, they clashed in one of the memorable series in junior hockey history.

And according to an early draft of the 2009-10 OHL schedule, there were designs to have the London Knights and Windsor Spitfires meet in a home-and-home set on back-to-back nig hts to kick-start the new season.

But the first half of that plan got doused.

Instead, the top-ranked Spits open their Memorial Cup defence on Thursday against the Plymouth Whalers, who travel to London tonight and St. Thomas tomorrow to face the Knights in final preseason tune-ups.

London and Windsor still tangle next Friday night at the John Labatt Centre in the Knights' season-opener.

With both expected to be powerhouses again, it's too bad they have to meet at all before NHL training camps end.

If it's anything like last year, everybody will want to savour these six head-to-head games.

"It happens every year," London head coach Dale Hunter said. "The better teams in the league always have guys away at pro camp when the season starts. We'll be missing guys. Windsor will be missing guys, too."

The missing bodies have made London a notorious slow starter in recent campaigns. But the Knights never stay on the mat for long.

London's first visit to the WFCU Centre is slated for Oct. 8. More roster questions will be answered by then but maybe not all of them.

What if the Toronto Maple Leafs entertain the idea of Nazem Kadri playing a couple of regular-season games with the big club before making their decision?

What if Michael Del Zotto is still in the Big Apple with the Rangers?

On the other bench, there's no telling if Windsor star defenceman Ryan Ellis, a Nashville first-rounder, will be back with Bob Boughner's crew, either.

"It's a chance for some of the younger guys to show what they can do and play in important situations," Hunter said. "When your top guys are gone, there's lots of ice available."

Players like Jared Knight, now in his NHL draft year, have a chance to roar to a fast start.

"One of the biggest things is consistency," he said. "I just want to play Dale Hunter-style hockey every night and it doesn't matter what line it is. Just contribute and help the team win."

With NHL rookie camps wrapping up, London expects today to welcome back one familiar face who knows how to make a lasting impression. Daniel Erlich is due back from the Shark Tank in San Jose after he whacked the Anaheim Duck rookies for a one goal, four-point performance in a 5-2 exhibition win. Erlich was a Sharks' rookie camp invitee.

"The scouts and coaches told me the only way to score was to shoot the puck. Winning is the best thing. We came in a few days ago with a bunch of guys we didn't know (except for fellow Knight and Sharks pick Phil Varone) and we win and everyone is happy."

The Knights were hoping to hear if Jason Wilson (Boston), Leigh Salters (St. Louis) and Justin Taylor (Vancouver) were on their way back or had earned invites to main camps. Erlich was in the same boat as those guys.

"It's good for him to show well like that," Hunter said . . .It's a chance to impress people and hopefully, he brings that experience back and has a good year here."

It'll start where the last one ended -- against Windsor.

Knights notes

Former London tough guy Mike Yovanic has signed with the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League . . . Former Knight Andrew Wilkins will play for Lakehead University under new coach Joel Scherban, an ex-Knights captain. The Thunderwolves will host the University Cup national championship this year and have an automatic berth . . . Coming off shoulder surgery, Dylan Hunter is practising with the Knights and waiting for another pro hockey opportunity. He played last year in the Buffalo Sabres system and has said he wants to pursue hockey as far as he can.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca


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