The London Knights caused heads to turn in the Canadian Hockey League this season with a record-setting 31-game unbeaten streak.
Yesterday, they sent heads spinning with two blockbuster trades at the OHL deadline.
General manager Mark Hunter obtained power forward Danny Fritsche, 19, from the Sarnia Sting and goaltender Adam Dennis, 19, from the Guelph Storm.
The Knights sent Ryan MacDonald, 19, to the Storm and gave up a total of six draft picks for the two players.
"The Hunters really want to set the bar as one of the greatest teams ever in junior hockey and this could do it," said an NHL scout, who requested anonymity.
"They've lost twice (35-2-2-0) and they might not lose twice more.
"The Hunters want to make their mark on history. They don't want to be a team that set history during the regular season, then doesn't win the Memorial Cup.
"There was always the knock on that Brandon team (that went 30 games without a loss in 1978-79, but lost in the Cup final)."
The Knights are in the Memorial Cup as the host team, but the scout said it would be to their advantage to go in as OHL champions since it means a better schedule.
The acquisitions didn't come without a price.
To get Fritsche, a second-round blue-chip pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Knights gave up a fifth-round pick in 2005, a third in '06 and a second in '07. Fritsche played 19 games in the NHL last season.
The Knights also gave Guelph their fourth-, fifth- and sixth-round picks in 2006.
Dennis and Gerald Coleman, also 19, will battle for the No. 1 job.
Dennis always played well against the Knights and had their number in the Western Conference final last season when the Storm pulled off a seven-game upset.
MacDonald established an OHL record goals-against average last season (2.05), his rookie year, and is third this season at 2.32, with a 15-1-0 record. Coleman leads the OHL with a 1.67 average and is 20-1-2 with three shutouts.
Even though Hunter denied rumours he and his brother Dale have sold the Knights or are about to sell, the NHL scout wondered about that after they unloaded six draft picks.
"You would think they're selling," the scout said. "These are two guys who always have been so concerned about the future.
"I hope they're not selling. I like the job they've done developing players. When you draft a player from London, you don't worry, you know they're going to develop."
The scout said it might also be the Hunters wanted to ensure none of the other OHL contenders got either player.
"The Hunters really, really, really, really want to win.
"Most people regarded the Knights as the prohibitive favourite against Guelph last year. The Hunters are making sure that doesn't happen again.
"It's the team's 40th year and they want to make a statement. When you look back on this team in 2015, potentially they could have 10 to 12 players in the NHL."
Mark Hunter said the Fritsche deal came about at the last minute.
"I think we all know he's high-end," Hunter said. "He's got speed, power, grit and skill."
Fritsche also has a history of shoulder trouble and has had surgery on both. He'd played only two games with the Sting this season after surgery in September, then played for the U.S. at the world junior championship.
"You're always concerned when a player has been injured, but right now he's healthy and we're happy to get him," Hunter said. "We were looking for another power forward."
Hunter said dealing MacDonald wasn't a criticism of him "(but) we like Dennis.
"He's a proven winner. He's a competitor and being here he has a chance of being a part of the Memorial Cup again."
After beating the Knights in the conference final, the Storm swept Mississauga to go to the Memorial Cup tournament in Kelowna, B.C.
The Knights obtained defenceman Daniel Girardi from the Storm last week "and they both know what it takes to be there and that's a big, extra intangible," Hunter said.
OHL DEADLINE DAY DEALS
Including the London Knights' two deals, there were 12 OHL deadline day trades yesterday:
- The Kitchener Rangers added some muscle, snagging bruising forward Ryan Donally from the Windsor Spitfires for winger Paul McFarland, a sixth-round pick in 2005 and future considerations. Donally is a third-round draft pick of the Calgary Flames in 2003. Kitchener also acquired Minnesota Wild draft pick Jean-Michel Rizk from the Saginaw Spirit for Joe McCann and a second- and seventh-round pick in 2006.
- The Peterborough Petes sent backup goaltender Aaron Barton to the Mississauga IceDogs for a fourth-round choice in 2005, and traded winger Greg Williams and a seventh-round pick in 2006 to the Kingston Frontenacs for Kyle Raftis.
- The Owen Sound Attack dealt centre Kevin Baker to Sudbury for blue-liner Kyle Lamb.
- The Belleville Bulls shipped defenceman Kyle Sonnenburg to the Brampton Battalion for a conditional fifth-round pick in 2006.
- The Battalion dealt Eric Kemp to the Toronto-St. Michael's Majors for a conditional 15th-round pick.
- The Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds traded over-age forward Matt Puntueri and a second- and fourth- round choice in 2005 to the Oshawa Generals for winger Andrew Gibbons and a third-round selection in 2005.
- The Plymouth Whalers sent stay-at-home defenceman Craig Cescon and a fifth-round pick in 2005 to Mississauga for blue-liner Ryan Lee and a second-round choice in 2005.
- The Majors shipped Chris Rebernik to the Attack for a conditional 15th-round choice in 2007.