Blue-liners will be key for Knights

Morris Dalla Costa -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 12:01 PM ET

No one will question the importance of obtaining players like goalie Adam Dennis and forward Dan Fritsche at Monday's OHL trade deadline. But as the season grinds to its end, the London Knights will look back on it as crucial.

They also managed to pry defenceman Dan Girardi away from the Guelph Storm. It cost them Ryan Pottruff, Rick Steadman and a high draft choice.

It will prove to be a bargain.

It shouldn't surprise anyone that a team with 36 wins and only two losses leads the league in goals scored. What's surprising is they have only 168 goals.

This is a team that gets a lot of chances but doesn't have a slew of natural goal scorers. If the Knights are going to win a championship, they'll have to do it with their blue-line.

A quick look at the last two games is a clear indication of how teams are going to play the Knights. A 1-0 win over Kitchener and last night's 4-1 victory over Brampton were both tough, slugging affairs.

Most teams that harbour any hope of beating London will have to play that way to win.

Enter Girardi.

When the Knights lost Frank Rediker with another knee injury, they recognized the need for a veteran defenceman, one who could play well in his own zone but also help out offensively if needed. If the guy they got happened to have experience in a big game, so be it.

Hello, Dan Girardi.

"We needed another good stay-at-home defenceman," said assistant coach Jacques Beaulieu, who handles the Knights defence.

One need look no further than goals-against to see how successful he has been. The Knights have given up 79 goals in 41 games.

"That's my game -- give up less than two goals and I'm happy," Beaulieu said.

He must be ecstatic.

Beaulieu watched last night as Girardi and his mates did a good job of protecting their own zone. They were far better than against the Rangers, when they gave up too many good chances.

Like anyone new on the scene, it's going to take a little while for the Girardi to get used to his surroundings. But over the first five games Girardi has provided the Knights with what they've needed. He doesn't get rattled.

Come playoff time, the Knights will have a defenceman who last year played in pressure situations, helping to knock off the Knights in the playoffs before moving on to a Memorial Cup.

"He played well against us last year," said Beaulieu.

"So far so good," said Girardi. "It's taking a little bit of time to get adjusted to new defensive systems and new players. Hopefully by the end of the week everything will be fine and I'll have everything down pat."

Against the Battalion, Girardi wasn't flashy but he made all the plays he had to make.

Not much different from his days in Guelph.

"This team has a lot more talent," Girardi said of the Knights. "I don't have to do as much as I did in Guelph. I still want to contribute offensively but I don't have to take as many chances."

Girardi knows getting a second chance at a Memorial Cup doesn't happen often.

"When you are an older guy you don't think you'll get more than one crack at it. Getting another shot at the Memorial Cup is exciting."

To say nothing of winning an OHL championship.

It would be especially gratifying since Girardi would have played a big part in his team getting there.


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