Goalies last bastion of Knights' record run

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:20 AM ET

He kicked out his pad as the puck was sliding toward the net.

He then made a quick glove save on a screen shot that he appeared to see only at the last moment.

London Knights goaltender Gerald Coleman had just protected his team's 2-1 lead in the second period against the Kitchener Rangers on Wednesday. If either shot goes in, the Knights might be working on a streak of one tonight at the John Labatt Centre.

Instead, they'll be working on an undefeated streak of 30 as they look at making Canadian Hockey League history.

The Knights went on to win 5-3, tying the 1978-79 Brandon Wheat Kings' mark of 29 straight games without a loss.

The saves received scant notice. They were lost in the hoopla.

What would have happened, though, if somewhere along the line Coleman had let in a floater from the blue-line and the streak ended? You can bet that wouldn't have been lost in the sombre aftermath.

"Sometimes you get a little nervous," Coleman said. "It's a little nerve-racking because when you lose it comes down to the goalie. It's always the goalie's fault, no matter what.

"But that's the way I like it. I'd rather have the pressure on me every day. It's fun that way. I know if I give up a bad goal sometimes, we have a good enough team to come back."

Welcome to the world of the goaltender, especially the goaltenders on the London Knights.

There's a belief in the goaltending trade that it's often more difficult playing goal on a good team than on a bad one. Coleman and partner Ryan MacDonald may go 10 minutes without facing a tough chance against them.

"That's what made (Montreal Canadiens goaltender) Ken Dryden so good," said Knights goalie coach Dave Rook.

"He wouldn't have a lot of work to do and suddenly he could make the big save."

That's why goaltending is overlooked on the team. The streak, the flashy players, the power play, they all somehow overshadow the goaltending.

A week ago, with the Windsor Spitfires up 3-0 and MacDonald having been pulled for Coleman, his first test is a breakaway. If the puck goes in, it's 4-0 and the streak is but a memory. But Coleman makes the save and the rest is almost history.

Tough to overlook that.

The Knights have had trouble deciding who will be their No. 1 goaltender in the last two years. Ask about a No. 1 and you'll still get the usual "we have two good goalies."

But maybe the numbers suggest otherwise. In the last 15 games Coleman has started 11 and come in to relieve MacDonald in another.

Both have startling numbers, but Coleman's are eye-popping. He has a goals-against average of 1.57 and save percentage of .944 to lead the OHL.

Coleman's confidence has increased with the amount of work he's received.

"Everybody wants to start," he said. "I definitely feel a lot more confident. I worked hard this summer. I came to camp in great shape. There were some difficult times for me, but I worked through them."

Coleman spoke of a game against the Guelph Storm Nov. 4, which the Knights won 3-2 in overtime. "There were times when I didn't look like I was there."

But he said he felt he solidified his spot a week later playing in a tough building in Erie, Pa. That began a run of four games in succession for him.

"I think the game in Erie, where we won 3-1," Coleman said. "We took a lot of penalties in the game and I made a few saves. It showed we have what it takes. Ever since then I've been playing well."

There's no question Coleman's come a long way mentally.

"I talked to Gerald about the process," Rook said. "I told him to look after the technical, the mental and the physical and the results will take care of themselves."

The results speak for themselves.

Tonight the Knights will take to the ice against the Storm with the hockey world watching closely.

No matter the result, the game will make everyone who plays in it a better player in the long run.

But this team wants more. A win would give a 40-year-old franchise the opportunity to establish itself as a prominent hockey entity.


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