Gerald Coleman is six-foot-six on skates, but last night the London Knights goalie stood even taller responding to his latest challenge.
After the Knights obtained Guelph Storm goaltender Adam Dennis at Monday's OHL trade deadline, Coleman went out and stopped 28 Kitchener shots for his third shutout of the season as the Knights defeated the Rangers 1-0 before another sellout of 9,090 at the John Labatt Centre.
Defenceman Danny Syvret's goal at 2:03 of the second period was all the Knights needed to improve to 36-2-2-0 with their sixth straight win.
Even though Coleman leads the league with a 1.60 goals-against average, a .943 save percentage and a 21-1-1 record, his confidence was a bit frayed after the Knights sent creasemate Ryan MacDonald and three draft picks to the Storm for Dennis, who gets the start tonight against the Central Division-leading Brampton Battalion.
The Battalion, 21-14-6-2, are three points out of first in the Eastern Conference.
"It's nice after the trade to put me back in and let me keep playing," Coleman said. "I played well and it was a fun game.
"I was a little nervous going into the game knowing that Adam Dennis is a well-established goalie in the league and (that) he's right on my coattails.
"But after a game like this, it helps me a lot knowing that against one of the best teams in the league you can step up to the challenge."
Coleman was particularly sharp in the third period when he was tested 15 times.
"He had to look through some bodies to make some saves, and he had to make some second-shot saves and he did a great job at it," Syvret said of the goaltender's performance.
Knights coach Dale Hunter said he hopes Coleman and Dennis will push each other.
"It's one of those things, where we've got two goalies and it's in their court who's going play more games," Hunter said.
"Gerald's going to battle. He'd been battling with Ryan, then kind of took over. And now he's got another battle on his hands and I like to see it."
While the Knights are the highest scoring team in the league, and the Rangers can also put the puck in the net, last night developed into a defensive battle.
"Against a team like London, you have to have everything go right, and if you're not getting a couple of lucky bounces in a game like this against a team like this, you're going to have a tough time winning," said Rangers coach Peter DeBoer.
The Knights and Rangers meet for the final time in the regular season Sunday in Kitchener and the Rangers might see Coleman again.
"I guess it's like you can't have too many starting pitchers. I guess that's the philosophy around here," DeBoer said of the deal the Knights made for Dennis.
While Dennis was in a backup role last night, winger Dan Fritsche made his debut with London after being acquired from the Sarnia Sting on Monday. He was on a line with Corey Perry and Dylan Hunter.
Perry assisted on Syvret's goal to move into sole possession of seventh on the Knights' all-time scoring list with 317 points.
Rangers goalie Dan Turple stoned Perry and Hunter during a scoreless first period punctuated by a heavyweight battle between the Knights' Brandon Prust and Kitchener's Adam Keefe.
Syvret's goal came three seconds after Kitchener captain Michael Richards got out of the penalty box after serving an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called at the conclusion of the first period.
The last time Syvret scored a game-winner-- in Canada's 6-1 win over Russia in the gold-medal game at the world junior championship -- that stick went to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
"Tonight was just a game-winning goal. It wasn't anything special," Syvret smiled. "It was a good goal but I don't think you can put it in the Hall of Fame for a 1-0 win in the regular season."
Prior to the game, the Knights honoured Richards, who captained Canada at the world juniors, and DeBoer, an assistant coach with the gold-medal team.
KNIGHTS 1, RANGERS 0
London goal: Danny Syvret
Shutout: Gerald Coleman
Next: The Knights play the Brampton Battalion tonight at the John Labatt Centre starting at 7:30 p.m.