Knights can tie record tonight

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:40 AM ET

The London Knights were in the national spotlight again yesterday but went about their business like it was just another day at the rink.

With Ron MacLean and Scott Oake and a CBC Hockey Night in Canada crew at the John Labatt Centre, the Knights went through preparations for a game that will rank as one of the most memorable in the team's 40-year history.

The Knights, off to a 27-0-1 start, can equal the longest undefeated streak in Canadian Hockey League history with a win or tie tonight in Kitchener against the Rangers.

The 1978-79 Brandon Wheat Kings went 29 games (24-0-5) before their first loss of that Western Hockey League season.

The Wheat Kings, with the likes of Brian Propp, Ray Allison, Laurie Boschman, Kelly and Brad McCrimmon, Walt Poddubny and goalie Rick Knickle lost Game 30 on Dec. 13, a 9-4 loss in Edmonton.

The streak was over but it has stood for 26 years. The closest any team has come has been the Knights.

The 1973-74 Sorel Eperviers of the Quebec league had set the benchmark with a 27-game undefeated run (26-0-1). That was equalled by the 1998-99 Quebec Remparts (22-0-5).

The Knights took over second spot Saturday night in Erie, Pa.

"It's unreal," second-year forward Trevor Kell said yesterday. "You hear about a 29-game record but you never expect it in a league so tight and as high-calibre as this."

The Knights set the OHL undefeated record at 26 games, breaking the 25-game run of the 1984-85 Rangers, who won all 25.

"Most of the teams are evenly matched but I guess we're just a little bit above everyone else," Kell said.

He said confidence has been a key factor, and that has continued to grow each game.

"Confidence is almost everything in hockey. If you feel good and everything is going good for you, it's a lot easier. That's been the main thing for me."

Kell said that until now, he hasn't looked too closely at the Wheat Kings' record. "But I don't think you can avoid it now, with all the hype.

"We're having some fun with it and it helps that our heads are still on straight."

Knights captain Danny Syvret participated in a CBC radio interview yesterday. Defenceman Don Dietrich, a rookie on the 1978-79 Brandon team, also was involved.

Syvret said he did some research on the Brandon team so he would be prepared for the interview.

"I asked him that with friendships a big part of hockey, if he still keeps in touch with his friends," Syvret said. "He said more so with the guys on that team than when he played pro."

The Wheat Kings lost to the Peterborough Petes in overtime in the Memorial Cup final that season.

"He said at the time it was a heartbreaker, but his biggest memory is still the entire year with the streak," Syvret said.

"He told me to just cherish the moment."

Syvret said he knows there will come a time when he and the Knights will be able to reflect back on their achievement, no matter when and where it ends. But for right now, it still doesn't seem like it's happening.

"Everything is clicking for us, and to our good luck we seem to be winning all the time."

Syvret said Dietrich offered words of encouragement even though the Knights have the opportunity to push the Wheat Kings out of the record book.

"He wished us the best of luck. He said it was a tough run for them and it's amazing a team nowadays can even come close to it. He said if we break it, it won't be touched for years to come."

The Wheat Kings' run is also the best start to a season in CHL history and Syvret said the Knights know what really counts is at the end of the season when they play host to the Memorial Cup.

But he said there is nothing to better prepare them for that than what they're experiencing right now.

"Every game is like a playoff game," he said.

The timing is right for the Knights. Should they tie the record tonight, they can break it Friday at the John Labatt Centre against the Guelph Storm.

That would be the last game for Syvret and snipers Corey Perry and David Bolland, who leave Sunday morning for the national junior team selection camp in Winnipeg.

The Knights play the Rangers at the JLC that afternoon.

High-scoring forward Rob Schremp then leaves Dec. 16 to join Team USA for the world junior championship, which opens on Christmas Day in Grand Forks, N.D.

KNIGHTWATCH

Tonight: The London Knights meet the Kitchener Rangers at Memorial Auditorium at 7 p.m. The game will be telecast by Rogers Television.

Tickets: About 50 obstructed standing room remain. Phone (519) 578-1570

Friday: The Knights play the Guelph Storm at the John Labatt Centre starting at 7:30 p.m. The game, which is sold-out, will be telecast on Rogers Sportsnet.

Memorial Cup update: More than 3,400 entries have been received in the online lottery for the 400 remaining ticket packages. All seats are in the 300 level. A maximum of two packages will be offered to each winner. The lottery closes Friday at noon. To participate, go online to Knights' website, located at www.londonknights.com.


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