Knights have lots to prove
By MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press
One would suspect a team that accumulated a record 110 points in the Ontario Hockey League and lost few players would have little to worry about heading into the season.
Truth be told, the London Knights are going into the 2004-05 season as one of the favourites to win the OHL title. It's something they would like to do even though they are already assured a spot in the Memorial Cup in London in May.
The Knights are already getting a rough ride in some circles because it's taken them 40 years to make it to a Memorial Cup and they did it by being selected, not by earning their way into the event.
The Knights would love to win the OHL title to silence critics who will remind them of that throughout the season.
But anyone who has a knowledge of junior hockey understands that at this level, predicting how teams are supposed to finish is a fool's game, especially this early in the season. No one would have predicted the type of numbers the Knights put together last year. Just as no one predicted the Guelph Storm were going to win the OHL title.
It's not unusual for it to take the first month of the season for teams to really figure out what they have and what they need. That's why barely 10 days into the Knights training camp, there doesn't seem to be a lot happening.
The roster has been pared down to about 28 players. The Knights play exhibition games tonight in Windsor and back home tomorrow against the Spitfires.
They will be missing five of their regulars who have gone to National Hockey League rookie camps. Corey Perry has gone to the Anaheim Mighty Ducks camp, Rob Schremp to Edmonton, Marc Methot to the Columbus Blue Jackets, Gerald Coleman to the Tampa Bay Lightning and Brandon Prust leaves today for the Calgary Flames rookie camp.
With the NHL facing a work stoppage and no training camps as of Sept. 15, look for most of those players to be back long before the OHL season begins. The only question mark of the five is Prust. If he makes a good impression in rookie camp, the Flames may be tempted to sign him and have him play in the American Hockey League.
But as one NHL scout says, that's not a sure thing.
"Money is tight," the scout said. "Prust could play in the AHL, but is there that much of an advantage for Calgary to do that? If he stays here, he's going to play a lot, he's going to gain all sorts of experience and he'll go to a Memorial Cup. That's worth an awful lot."
Whatever moves the Knights are going to make, they will make gradually. Two things they may have to address are size and their blue line.
Injuries to Frank Rediker and Ryan Potruff have left them thin on defence. Rediker is supposed to be back sometime in the next four weeks. But after knee surgery to repair ligaments and not having played much during the last two years, it's going to take time for him to get back into game shape. There's also the question of his mobility. Skating was Rediker's strength and how much of that he gets back remains to be seen.
Potruff went down with a broken leg. The extent of the break will be known during the next few days when he goes under the knife. There may be some knee damage as well.
"We really won't know everything until he's operated on," Knights general manager Mark Hunter said.
Potruff and Rediker also provided some size to what is an undersized Knights team.
While Hunter says there are no immediate moves being planned, rest assured this team is not going to get caught in the same situation they were caught in last year, when the Knights had trouble against the bigger Storm.
When it comes down to dealing, the Knights will definitely deal. They will look for a tough forward with some size.
Until then, the Knights go through training camp and assess just how much of a favourite they really are.