Knights land top defender

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:54 AM ET

It's Memorial Cup over kin for the Hunter family this season.

Desperate to land a top-flight defenceman before the OHL trade deadline Monday, London Knights general manager Mark Hunter shipped another hockey-playing relative -- nephew and over-age checking-line forward Rick Steadman -- to the Guelph Storm for over-age blue-liner Dan Girardi.

As part of the deal, Guelph also got defenceman Ryan Pottruff, 18, a Woodstock native and a second-round pick in this summer's OHL draft.

Girardi, 20, is rated by many as one of the OHL's top five defencemen and is expected to give the Knights a dominant back end during the playoffs and the Memorial Cup tournament, set for May at the John Labatt Centre.

"With Frank Rediker out (the Knights don't expect the injured veteran back until at least playoff time), we needed another good defenceman and we really liked Dan," Hunter said yesterday.

"It's not easy (trading family). We discuss it before it happens and it's always a tough decision. Rick did a good job here for 3 1/2 years but you only have so many overage spots.

"He's a true forward and we needed another defenceman."

It's not the first time the Hunters have traded one of their own. GM Hunter dealt nephew Logan Hunter to Peterborough this season.

Dave Barr, the Storm's GM and coach, said he fielded calls from several teams about Girardi but liked the Knights' offer for its future returns. He also didn't hedge on trading his top defender to a potential playoff opponent.

"We feel we're on different planes right now," he said. "The Knights have lost only two games this year and we're a younger team in a rebuilding phase.

"On a personal note, I hated to lose Dan. He's a classy guy, he's a five-year veteran, he was an assistant captain and he basically carried us offensively from the defensive position this season.

"If he's in the top three defencemen in this league, I'd like to see who No. 1 and No. 2 are. London has a pretty good top four on defence right now" with Girardi, Danny Syvret, Bryan Rodney and Marc Methot.

Barr said it's unthinkable to him that Girardi remains undrafted and unsigned by an NHL club.

Girardi played for the Guelph team that beat London in last year's Western Conference final and went on to win the OHL championship. He will get a chance to play in his second straight Memorial Cup tournament.

"I'm glad I get the chance to redeem myself. Last year's Cup left a bad taste," he said.

"The trade was a bit of a surprise. You hear the rumours but I'm just excited to be here. The crowd (at the John Labatt Centre) is great. There's a lot of noise every time there's a hit or a goal. I can't wait to play (tonight in Windsor)."


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