Knights snap back into winning mode

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 12:45 PM ET

KINGSTON -- The London Knights went back to what they do best last night -- winning a hockey game. Their 5-0 victory over the Kingston Frontenacs, before a sellout crowd of 3,300, snapped a two-game losing streak and clinched a playoff spot for the Memorial Cup-bound Knights.

The OHL and Canadian Hockey League don't keep this sort of statistic but it's believed this is the quickest a team has clinched a playoff berth.

But the victory may be in limbo.

Kingston general manager Larry Mavety said he will likely protest that Knights centre Dan Fritsche was allowed to play the first period, even though 1:25 into the game Frontenacs coach Jim Hulton drew the attention of the two referees, Ryan O'Neill and Rob Palm, to the fact Fritsche's name was not on the lineup sheet submitted by the Knights.

The referees let Fritsche continue and he assisted on the Knights' first goal by Adam Perry at 2:55, then scored a goal himself at 18:42.

It was during the first intermission that the officials notified the Knights that Fritsche could no longer play.

OHL rules only allow teams to protest player eligibility and Fritsche's situation may qualify under the criteria.

The Knights coaching staff said it was a "clerical error."

The Knights had lost the first two games of their Eastern Conference road swing, 2-1 in Belleville on Wednesday and 6-2 to Peterborough in a penalty-filled game on Thursday.

It was the first time this season the Knights, now 39-4-2-0, had lost two in a row.

The Peterborough game was costly. The Knights have lost coach Dale Hunter, goalie Adam Dennis and forwards Kelly Thomson and Jordan Foreman, all suspended.

Goalie K.J. Robinson was called up from junior B Strathroy to back up Gerald Coleman last night and tomorrow in Ottawa when the Knights play the 67's at the sold-out Civic Centre.

The Knights made it 4-0 in the second period with power-play goals by Dylan Hunter at 16:14 and 18:41.

Defenceman Danny Syvret made it 5-0 with a third-period power-play goal at 10:44.

Corey Perry drew four assists for his first points in four games. The OHL scoring leader has 73 points and moved into sixth on the Knights' career list with 322.

Rob Schremp, fifth in league scoring with 29 goals and 60 points, was on the bench but did not see a shift last night.

"He's got to get better five-on-five," said assistant coach Jeff Perry. "Rob was much better early in the year, but he's taken a step back since coming back from the world juniors (where he played for the U.S.)"

Schremp was benched for the same reason during last year's Western Conference final, which London lost to Guelph.

There were only five minor penalties last night. Syvret, the Knights captain, wasn't entirely pleased with his team's performance in Peterborough but also felt the officiating left something to be desired as the Petes scored five straight power-play goals.

"I don't know if it was undisciplined or it was the officiating.

"It's frustrating when they don't get anything on you even-strength until the end, when your spirit is broken.

"But I don't think we can get carried away with what's going on with (the officiating).

"We took penalties right as the puck goes in the net for mouthing off or whacking a guy on the back of the leg. It's not going to hurt anybody on the other team. It only hurt ourselves."

The Frontenacs are still without centre Blake Pronk as the 18-year-old Londoner is out at least another another two weeks after taking a blindside elbow from Russian Alexei Ivanov of the Toronto St. Michael's Majors on Jan. 7.

Ivanov, who began the season with the Knights, was assessed a major penalty and game misconduct.

Pronk sustained a broken nose and concussion from the elbow, and a shoulder injury when he fell to the ice.

Pronk, in his second OHL season, has five goals and six assists in 36 games.

DOWN FROM FIRST

The London Knights are now the second-hottest ticket in North America. The Knights, averaging 9,027 spectators through 24 games at the John Labatt Centre this season, have fallen behind the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League, who are averaging 9,080 at the Pengrowth Saddledome.

The Hitmen and Knights lead all seven minor hockey leagues at the turnstiles. That encompasses the three major junior leagues that comprise the Canadian Hockey League, the American, East Coast, United and Central leagues.


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