Knights offering no apologies

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

No one likes to be embarrassed.

In recent weeks, several Ontario Hockey League teams have been embarrassed by the London Knights.

The Kingston Frontenacs suffered a 14-1 defeat and, more recently, the Sarnia Sting came to the John Labatt Centre and lost 7-0.

There were plenty of hard feelings after the Sarnia game. With the Knights leading 6-0 with less than two minutes left, the Sting didn't think it was necessary for the Knights to have their top power-play unit on the ice. Their impression was the Knights were running up the score.

This type of accusation isn't unusual, especially when there is a distinct difference in talent. Do you tell your players not to score and further embarrass a team?

Knights coach Dale Hunter had a simple explanation for why his top unit was on the ice. Trevor Kell, known more for his defensive work than offensive numbers, had scored two goals and was looking for a hat trick.

Three goals in a game is a benchmark. It's not easy to accomplish, especially if you don't play with offensive players or spend time on the power play.

Kell rarely plays the power play. But he was out there in the last two minutes as a reward. He scored.

"If they had stood a guy beside him, he wouldn't have been able to shoot," Hunter said.

"No one else was going to shoot that puck. All they had to do is stand a guy right next to him. Figure it out!"

So why put out your top unit when the game is out of reach and there isn't any milestone on the horizon? Hunter's answer is matter-of-fact and reflects his experience as a longtime NHL player.

"If you are frustrated and are down a lot and you hack and whack at the end of the game, I'm going to put my best players out there to score," he said. "Why should you get to hack and whack? Don't do it. Don't be undisciplined.

"I'd expect the same thing with my team."

Last month in Peterborough, the Knights and Petes were involved in a chippy game. The Petes scored five power-play goals and won.

"In Peterborough, I didn't say 'Dick Todd (Petes coach) don't put out your best power play.' They scored five power-play goals against us," Hunter said. "Did I get mad?

"I was upset at my guys because we were undisciplined at the end of the game. We were hacking and whacking and we paid for it."

This is a unique year in the OHL. The Knights have broken many records and threaten to break more.

There are times when it leads to long shifts, complete two-minute power plays and lots of ice time for the top players.

Hunter likes to use four lines. He carefully watches the ice time of each player and while he's aware some get more than others, he thinks they can handle it. There's no question players such as Corey Perry, Dylan Hunter and Danny Syvret saw a lot of ice time Sunday in a 2-1 loss at Guelph.

"I'll use them a lot when we're down, but we haven't been down a lot this year," Hunter said.

This is not a heavy week for the Knights. They are in Windsor tonight before going to Plymouth on Saturday. Many times they play three games in less than 48 hours.

Coaches and players often walk a fine line when it comes to the amount of ice time a player gets this time of year. The chase of records and a dominant season have to be measured against the wear and tear and the risk of injury.

"The kids want to keep playing," Hunter said. "We don't go out and intentionally say we have to get this record or that record. It's there. We know it. It's a challenge.

"Corey's trying to get an all-time record (the Knights' career points mark). I'm not trying to run the score up. Players have goals. Why shouldn't they get a chance to reach them?"


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