Knights the hottest ticket in OHL

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:41 AM ET

GUELPH -- Wherever the record-setting London Knights go, they're drawing a crowd.

It's a given that games at the John Labatt Centre are sold out, with 9,090 fans attending every night. But the Knights are also the OHL's hottest ticket on the road.

The Knights and Guelph Storm drew a season-high sellout of 4,883 at the Guelph Sports and Entertainment Centre yesterday even though the game was available on live TV. The Knights and Saginaw Spirit drew a franchise-record 5,529 fans at the Dow Event Center in Saginaw on Saturday night.

It's been like that everywhere the Knights have played, with record crowds also seen in Barrie (4,271) and Owen Sound (3,657).

Kitchener, Oshawa, Peterborough, Kingston, Sudbury, Belle-ville and Sarnia have all attracted season-high sellouts with the Knights in town. And it will be more of the same down the stretch.

"The excitement they bring, it's fantastic," Storm co-owner and president Jim Rooney said during yesterday's game. Rooney is also the past chair of the league's board of governors and was involved in the joint London-Kitchener bid for the 2006 world junior hockey championship.

"First of all, you've got two things," Rooney said."The quality of the team generates fans, so the home team will always benefit."

In addition, because of the proximity, "there's always tons of London fans who follow their team, and it's a credit to them. You see it today, whether it's the green wigs or the Knights jerseys."

Rooney said OHL teams are using the Knights and their incredible season to market games. "There's no question they're a good marketing tool. We play them back-to-back on Sundays (the Knights are in Guelph again next Sunday) and both Sundays we're sold out early.

"So what does it say? That the junior hockey fan is very astute, the junior hockey fan wants to watch the best and they'll pay to watch the best."

Knights defenceman Daniel Girardi, traded to London from Guelph on Jan. 5, said the players use the big road crowds as motivation. "Obviously (yesterday's full house) wasn't for me . . . but it's a good thing to have. It gets you ready for the game and pumped up."

Knights president and head coach Dale Hunter said the sellouts on the road work to everyone's advantage.

"The fans want to see what we're all about," he said. "It gets the other teams pumped up and it gets us pumped up, too. With sellout crowds, it's almost like we're at home.

"And the fans are definitely hoping we're going to lose."

It's not just at the gate where the Knights are helping out. Their first loss was Dec. 17 at the JLC against Sudbury, ending a 31-game unbeaten streak.

The Wolves are now selling a T-shirt, available on their website, that reads: "The streak stopped here."


Videos

Photos