New-look Knights still vulnerable

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:47 AM ET

Just about everybody came to see what the new-look London Knights were all about last night.

They came away having learned a great deal.

They learned that no one is going to roll over and play dead just because they are playing the Knights.

Whatever the Knights get, they'll have to earn.

Last night's 1-0 win over the Kitchener Rangers at the John Labatt Centre was reminiscent of a playoff encounter.

The curiosity was immense. After London made two deals at the trade deadline bringing forward Danny Fritsche and goaltender Adam Dennis to the city, the immediate feeling among fans was that the 35-2-2-0 Knights prior to the trades had made themselves so strong, the OHL competition was but a mere formality.

Hockey people know better.

Two years ago, the Rangers won the Memorial Cup. They were favoured to do so.

But coach Peter DeBoer said it was far from a foregone conclusion. It took the combination of skill, desire and favourable bounces for Kitchener to win.

So it will be with the Knights.

Through good trades, the Knights have put together the best team they could. But the Rangers last night gave them a taste of what they should expect the rest of the season when they run into better teams like Kitchener.

"It's been that way since about the first 10 games," said Knights defenceman Bryan Rodney. "It seems like we are the team with the X on our back."

The Rangers played London tough -- not taking a lot of chances, looking for their opportunities offensively and trying to play the game close to the vest.

In turn, the Knights had to play a tight game and be more responsible defensively.

While London had more good scoring chances, the Rangers kept hanging around.

The Knights had better get used to it because that's how most teams will play them from here on.

Did it make for outstanding, wide-open hockey? Only occasionally, and most of that was in the third period.

But the goal of any opposing team playing London isn't to make it entertaining but to make it difficult for the team.

That's just what the Rangers did.

"As individuals, it's going to make us better hockey players," Rodney said.

"As a team, it's going to teach us how to play through clutch-and-grab games. It's going to get us ready for the playoffs."

In the end, it took outstanding goaltending by netminder Gerald Coleman for the Knights to wind up winning.

Based on the third period alone, the Rangers deserved to come away with at least a tie.

It must have been satisfying for Coleman, given the acquisition of Dennis.

The supposition is that Dennis would be the guy who would wind up carrying the load.

Coleman sent a message of his own last night to Dennis and the team management: Don't count me out.

He was the difference in the third period.

Dennis will start tonight's game against the Brampton Battalion. Expect nothing to be easy.

"Teams look at our record, the talent we have, and they come in here mentally and physically ready to play," said Rodney. "They know this is a big media town and the building will be full.

"I know if I was on another team coming in here, I'd want to have my best game."

Such is the burden the top team must carry night in, night out.

The good thing is that the Knights managed to win yet again.

What's difficult is that with every win, the burden is made heavier.


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