Knights' winning record has fans believing

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:43 AM ET

Ah, the euphoria of success.

The joy of having the junior hockey team with the best record.

The pride of looking week after week and seeing your team ranked No. 1 in the country.

So it has been for London Knights' fans since the beginning of the season. After 15 games the Knights have won 14 and tied one, earning 29 out of a possible 30 points in the Ontario Hockey League.

They are 10 points ahead of Guelph Storm, the next best team in their own conference, and they have played one less game. The Storm come to the John Labatt Centre Thursday.

This start has caused an inordinate amount of hockey interest in the city. There had been some thought that, since the Knights got a free ride to the Memorial Cup tournament by acquiring the right to hold it here in May, interest in the proceedings might take a while to formulate.

The Knights' amazing beginning to the season has made that a mute point. Many fans can hardly wait to get to the JLC to see the freaky goings-on of a undefeated start after 15 games.

There is a different belief system operating around this hockey team. Whether it's realistic or not remains to be seen, but it doesn't take much walking along JLC corridors to realize many fans believe this team can do anything.

For instance, fans are now beginning to talk about the Knights challenging the Canadian Hockey League record for beginning the season undefeated. That record is 29 games, set by the 1978-79 Brandon Wheat Kings. On that Wheat King team were players such as Brian Propp, who that season scored 94 goals and had 100 assists, Laurie Boschman, Brad McCrimmon and Ray Allison.

Let's remember that the Knights would have to remain undefeated for another 15 games and while the OHL is hardly stacked with good teams, there are still enough solid teams around to make that longer than a long shot.

And just to get this out of the way, Corey Perry has a 15-game points streak. He would have to score a point in his next 40 games just to tie the consecutive-game points record of 55 set in 1982-83 by Cornwall Royal Doug Gilmour.

Yeah, yeah, anything's possible.

When you look at this year's version of the Knights, it looks a lot like last year's team. Strong on special teams with a propensity to waste too many good scoring chances.

And they still have a goaltending debate on their hands.

The OHL statistic sounds like a roll call of Knights players. The Knights as a team have a .967 winning percentage, .320 better than the No. 2 team Brampton Battalion.

The Knights are No. 1 on the power play and penalty-killing. Perry leads the league in scoring with Dylan Hunter and Rob Schremp also in the top 10. The Knights have five of the league's top 10 in plus/minus rating. Danny Syvret leads with a plus-21. Others on the list are Hunter, Perry and defencemen Marc Methot and Jeff Whitfield.

Most everyone is familiar with the goaltending situation where Gerald Coleman leads the league in save percentage at .942, with Ryan MacDonald at No. 3. Coleman also leads in goals-against average at 1.84 with MacDonald at No. 2.

How good are these numbers? Pretty good but they pale in comparison to numbers being put up by Kevin Nastiuk, goaltender for the Medicine Hat Tigers. The Western Hockey League Tigers are 11-1-1. Nastiuk is 10-1, has given up nine goals and recorded six shutouts. He has a save percentage of .968 and a goals-against average of 0.82. That's why it's a good bet that Canada's national junior team might have a defence and a goaltending duo made up strictly of WHL players.

Don't think for a minute the Knights are only going to make news on the record-setting front. The rumour persists they are after Londoner Jeff Carter of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds and they are in a battle with the Mississauga IceDogs to get him.


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