Knights take shot at history

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

To look at it, an 11-game winning streak doesn't seem like much. But it is something when it comes at the beginning of the season.

To the Ontario Hockey League, it's a record. To the London Knights, it's the carrot dangling on the end of a hockey stick.

The Knights, who have already won 10 straight games to begin the regular season, go after No. 11 tonight when they play the Mississauga IceDogs at the John Labatt Centre.

A win and the Knights take their place in the OHL record book alongside the 1992-93 Peterborough Petes and the 1995-96 Guelph Storm.

Then, tomorrow night, they would seek to own the record outright as they play in Owen Sound.

"Obviously, we've set high expectations for ourselves," said defenceman Bryan Rodney, traded to the Knights by the Kingston Frontenacs before the season began. "We expect to win every night and that gives us the right frame of mind to get the two points every night.

"I played on a team (the Frontenacs) that was happy with a tie on the road."

It hasn't been easy to get to 10-0 -- the Knights are the only unbeaten team among the 56 in the Canadian Hockey League -- and this weekend is no piece of cake. They have the IceDogs tonight, then the Attack in Owen Sound tomorrow and the Storm in Guelph Sunday.

"Being in first place, we have to prove ourselves every night," Rodney said. "Whether it's at home or in their barn, whoever we're playing they want to be known as the first team to knock us off."

There's nothing in the dressing room to suggest the Knights are aware of the record they're chasing -- no pucks on the wall, no numbers posted, only a quiet confidence as they go about their business.

"We're just playing it one game at a time," said forward Josh Beaulieu, who, in his case, it could be said "one fight at a time" as he's known to drop the gloves.

"We all do our part," he continued with a smile. "We all have our roles."

When you think of it, the fact that 11 is the OHL record (16 is the CHL record) speaks volumes about how tough it is to put together a string of victories at the start of a season. It usually takes a month or two for players to bond, not to mention buy into the program, and only then can a team begin to think about a winning streak.

"Any time you get juniors to buy in and play well on a consistent basis, that's really something," said Dick Todd, who was coach and general manager of the 1992-93 Petes, who went on to win the OHL title that season.

Todd is back in Peterborough as coach after being in the NHL.

"The Knights have done a good job, right from the coaching staff to the scouting staff.

"You have to have a lot of things in place at the start of the year, and I look at what London had and I'd say on paper they were far and above everybody else."

The same could be said of the 1992-93 Peterborough club led by defenceman Chris Pronger, now in the NHL and involved in the IceDogs ownership.

The Knights easily could have just played out this season. They're already in the Memorial Cup as tournament host "but that has not fazed them," Todd said. "They've shown they really want to earn their way there (as OHL champions)."

E. J. Maguire, who has coached in the NHL and is employed in the league's hockey operations department in Toronto, coached the 1995-96 Storm, who lost in the OHL final that season to the Petes.

"Character and confidence have to play into it," Maguire said. "The only downside is the pressure -- the expectations of fans and owners. We lost two in a row and everybody asked, 'What's wrong with the team?' You spoil people."

Maguire credited Mike Kelly, GM of that Guelph team (now coach-GM in Windsor) with assembling the perfect lineup.

"Mike Kelly gets all the credit in the world. The thing they say about a coach is all he needs is the ability to open the door and get out of the way."

The Hunter brothers -- Mark, the GM, and Dale, head coach -- have built a team that is representative of the way they played in junior and then in the NHL.

"This streak shows how much effort the Hunters put into the team," said Corey Perry, who leads the league with 10 goals and 17 assists. And although Perry and many of this year's players have their names in the record book for last season, (including a record 110 points, another entry would be nice.

"We want to have this record done and have our name in their again, so when we're gone, we can look back on this."

Former Knights defenceman Kyle Quincey, now with the IceDogs after the trade for Rob Schremp last season, said the attitude starts with the Hunters.

"The Hunters are passionate hockey people and they know how to pick character," he said.

"The players they get, they're the Hunters' style. That's the kind of thing that wins hockey games."

Mark Hunter said a streak like this stems from two things, the coaches and the character that's in the dressing room.

"The coaching staff has to put the team together, and the players coming back from last year must understand what the coaches want," he said.

"You also hear character talked about a lot and it's the older guys who help the young kids adjust to the OHL. We have a good group of older kids in that room, or this wouldn't be happening."

It's always neat to be able to pick up a record book and see your name or your team's name. Dale Hunter is in the NHL record book for second-most penalty minutes in league history (3,565).

"It's awesome when you can pick up the book some day and see it on paper," he said.

"Until somebody takes it away from you, it's always there."

There's no reason the Knights should be satisfied with 12 wins in a row -- if they make it that far. Why not shoot for the OHL record for consecutive wins in a season? That's 25 by the 1983-84 Kitchener Rangers.

"If we keep playing the way we are, we can keep the streak going," said forward David Bolland, who was echoed by forward Brandon Prust.

"We just don't want to set it at 12," Prust said. "We want to set it at 20, or something.

KNIGHTWATCH

Tonight: The London Knights play the Mississauga IceDogs at the John Labatt Centre at 7:30. The game is sold out, although some tickets may become available during the day at the box office, which opens at 10 a.m.

Tomorrow: The Knights play in Owen Sound at 7:30 p.m.


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