Experience, talent acquired in trades

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:50 AM ET

The question asked most often of the London Knights before the season began revolved around determination.

Just how determined were they to win the OHL title? Or earn their way into the Memorial Cup tournament instead of entering just because they were awarded the event?

Their determination knows no boundaries. The Knights proved it at the OHL trade deadline yesterday -- with a sonic boom.

Give them credit. Despite their public assurance about their goaltending, they recognized it may have been good enough to win an OHL title but not to win a Memorial Cup. That's why they dealt for the "Knight-killer" himself --Guelph Storm goaltender Adam Dennis.

They then went a step further by getting accomplished Sarnia Sting forward Danny Fritsche, a U.S. national junior team selection.

A few days ago, the Knights acquired one of the better blue-liners in the league in Guelph defenceman Dan Girardi. More about the cost in a minute.

At 35-2-2-0, it was easy to recognize the Knights as the best team in the OHL. It led to discussions among long-time OHL watchers of where the Knights of 2004-05 rank among the best teams ever. With the addition of Dennis, Fritsche and Girardi, look for comparisons to take on a new level of seriousness.

Depending on how well the new parts of the machine work, the team-owning Hunter brothers have retrofitted the team to the point that it will no longer be a surprise if they win the Memorial Cup this year, which has generally been considered to be the year of the Western Hockey League.

The Knights have acquired more than just talent. They have acquired experience.

In Dennis and Girardi, they have two players who have competed in a Memorial Cup tournament. They join Bryan Rodney in that group. Fritsche now joins Rob Schremp, Corey Perry and Danny Syvret as players who have made it to the world junior hockey championship international stage.

Players who have been subjected to playing in pressure-cooker situations tend to learn and respond from them. The Knights have never had so many of them as they do now.

But at what cost? For fans who have waited 40 years to see a Memorial Cup victory, who have filled the JLC game in, game out, the answer is simple -- cost be damned.

By mortgaging their future against immediate returns, the Knights have done nothing that junior teams haven't done many times before. Some will look at the trading of seven draft choices, covering drafts from 2005 to 2007, as a sign that Mark and Dale Hunter will sell the team, so they are taking a real run at a title without worrying about what's left in the cupboard.

Feel free to speculate.

But remember that last year the Guelph Storm built a team specifically to win the OHL title and this year they are rebuilding. The team wasn't sold.

Remember draft choices can be dealt but they can also be acquired. The Knights have had a remarkable run over the past two years. Fans would love it to continue year after year.

But the reality of junior hockey will come crashing into the JLC eventually. There will be a year -- and it may come as early as next year -- when the Knights won't be dominant buyers as they are this season, but they'll become sellers. That's when they will deal players who will help teams immediately in return for draft choices to help the Knights in the future.

These deadline deals have nothing to do with selling the club.

Only time will tell whether they'll work out as planned.

But that's not the issue right now. The Hunters are doing exactly what any other hockey person in their position would do. It's done in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, it's done in the Western Hockey League. You can bet that if the Knights didn't get Dennis and Fritsche, some other team would.

It's what the Hunters should be doing -- doing what's best for the team right now. They are giving this team the best chance to win.

After 40 years of waiting, the future is now.


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