The London Knights were down eight of their top players at practice yesterday -- but feeling 'up' over an appearance by former Knight turned NHL superstar Brendan Shanahan.
Shanahan, in the city to skate at the Knights practice rink at Western Fair Sports Centre and work out on the team's gym facilities at the John Labatt Centre, believes push has come to shove if the NHL season is to be saved.
"If something's going to happen, it has to happen soon," the former Knight during 1985-87 and current Detroit Red Wing said yesterday.
"If not and I decide to head to Europe to play, this is like my mini-training camp."
Knights coach Dale Hunter was glad to have Shanahan on hand, saying: "It's great for the kids to be able to be around him. He's a proven star in the NHL and has won Stanley Cups" (in 1997, 1998 and 2000 with Detroit).
The Knights were without goalie Adam Dennis, blue-liners Danny Syvret, Daniel Girardi and Marc Methot and forwards Corey Perry, Rob Schremp, Dylan Hunter and David Bolland, who along with London's Jeff Carter of the Soo Greyhounds are in Owen Sound for tonight's OHL all-star game.
Knights goalie Gerald Coleman, who has all-star numbers, including a league-best 1.65 goals-against average and six shutouts -- if not all-star status, said the absence of the club's biggest names "will allow the younger guys to show they can do."
And it's not as if the Knights' all-stars won't be getting their work in before Friday's home game against the Peterborough Petes, the gang that handed its leader, Dick Todd, his 500th OHL coaching win by drubbing the Knights 6-2 on Jan. 20 at Peterborough Memorial Centre.
"The all-star game will be high tempo, so the guys will be getting ready in a good way," Coleman said.
With Dennis off in Owen Sound, goalie Steve Mason, London's 11th-round draft choice this season, was in town to work out in front of the Knights brass, including goalie coach Dave Rook.
"I'm happy for the opportunity to come here and show them what I can do," said Mason, 16, a six-foot-two, 170-pounder from Oakville, who as a star stopper for the 20-2-4-2 Grimsby Peach Kings leads the Niagara Junior C Hockey League with 1.62 goals-against average and four shutouts.
Rook praised Mason's game as "very technically sound. He plays the puck well and his positioning is good."
The coach expects Mason will join the battle with Jason Guy, this year's No. 6 pick who is now playing for St. Thomas of the Western junior B loop, and 13th pick Jodie O'Neil, playing junior B in Nepean this season, for next season's backstop spot behind either Coleman or Dennis, who can return as over-agers.
Hunter, meanwhile, said the Knights have to do a couple of things differently this time out against the Petes.
"We have to play better and we have to show discipline."
Friday: The London Knights, first overall in the OHL with 88 points (43-4-2-0), tackle the Peterborough Petes, who are tied for second in the East Division with 56 points (23-15-6-4), at the John Labatt Centre starting at 7:30 p.m.
Sunday: The Knights are in Oshawa to face the Generals, last in the East with 28 points (12-32-3-1). Game time: 2 p.m.