Record run hardens Knights for big tests ahead

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 10:50 AM ET

There were 24 seconds left in the game. The Sudbury Wolves had just scored their second empty-net goal and were about to end the London Knights' incredible streak of 31 games without a defeat.

The crowd of 9,096 fans gave the home team a standing ovation.

It was a fitting tribute for a team that for 31 games gave the fans thrill after thrill.

The Wolves defeated the Knights 5-2 last night. Finally, there was no more gas in the tank, no last-minute heroics, no miracle on ice.

What remains of the streak, though, is more than just memories and highlights. What's left is a hardened team that has gained invaluable experience and stamina. The streak did more than rewrite the record book. It helped produce a team that will be ready for the OHL playoffs and the Memorial Cup tournament, which will be held here in May.

It was a quiet dressing room. There was a keen sense of disappointment that the streak had ended but also some disappointment in how it ended.

"We came out flat and Sudbury outworked us," said defenceman Marc Methot. "We can take a positive from this. We learned we can be beat if we don't work hard."

Brandon Prust echoed those sentiments.

"It's disappointing because we wanted to get those four points. It would have been great to go into Christmas undefeated," he said. "What we've accomplished is great but we didn't deserve to win tonight.

"This was our worst game of the year. Tomorrow is important (tonight vs. Guelph.) It will be a test to see how we bounce back."

It wasn't the best of nights for David Bolland to return from the Canadian junior team selection camp in Winnipeg, where he left teammates Danny Syvret and Corey Perry. Teammate Rob Schremp is with the U.S. team.

Bolland spoke about his experience and how it had made him a better player as he prepared for last night's game.

It's why many coaches and managers love to see their players get a crack at the world junior team. Even if they don't make it, the return on the investment of time and effort is enormous.

Would anyone doubt that Perry will come back as a better player? He earned his way on a team that was dominated by returning players and the Western Hockey League.

Perry responded to the challenge. He didn't choke. He didn't lose his composure. He was confident before he left. There's no telling where that confidence is now.

So it is with Bolland. He too had a strong camp but he's only 18.

"The experience will help me next year when I go back to the camp," he said.

Notice he didn't say if?

"It was hard, fast-paced. (Coach) Brent Sutter is a hard guy," Bolland said. "No one got a free ride. I had a good camp."

The team that eventually will take to the ice in Grand Forks, N.D., is being trumpeted as perhaps the best Canada has put together.

As for the streak, the disappointment will eventually give way to amazement at what the Knights have done.

"There were a lot of guys upset. Sure it's disappointing," Methot said. "But we realize that what we accomplished is something great, that what we did is going to be in the record books for a long time."

Amen to that.


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