The London Knights should thank the Owen Sound Attack for adding a dose of reality before the playoffs. They provided lessons that will help the Knights in the long run.
The Attack came into the John Labatt Centre last night and gave the Knights all they could handle. Somehow it still wasn't enough as the Knights defeated the Attack 3-2 using a 10-minute blitz in the third period.
Lesson No. 1: Records and publicity are nice but when the playoffs roll around no one remembers them.
Owen Sound is the team most believe will provide the Knights' biggest challenge. The Attack did nothing to dispel that belief last night. They are solid up front and in goal. The only question is how their blueline corp will hold up.
Truth be told, every team gets tougher in the playoffs. It won't make it any easier that every team the Knights play will have nothing to lose and everything to gain against No. 1 in the country.
Sure the Knights had nothing to play for last night. But neither did the Attack. While the game lacked intensity the picture was clear: another level will be needed in the playoffs.
Slick offensive players will still make their plays. But there won't be as many and it won't be as easy.
Lesson No. 2: Look no further than players like Trevor Kell and Brandon Prust to play major roles in the playoffs. They are tough, grinding forwards who will do most of the heavy slugging in the playoffs. They'll kill penalties, win the puck along the boards and absorb and give punishment.
"I live for playoff hockey," Prust said. "The intensity's high. It gets me going since I'm an energy player."
As the game got tough in the third period, it was Prust who stepped forward. The Knights had tied it 2-2 on a gift penalty shot given to Dan Fritsche. Fritsche, who has been outstanding, used his speed to force Matt Smyth to haul him down. A penalty for sure but not a penalty shot.
After Fritsche scored, Prust took over and put the energy back in the game. He became a human wrecking ball, injecting life into his hockey club.
In one shift he killed a penalty, stole the puck twice, almost scoring, and threw two thunderous checks. The adrenaline injection forced the Attack to take a penalty, which Rob Schremp converted to give the Knights the lead.
The Knights played well for the final 10 minutes of the third period and got away with it. A timely goal by Schremp, a strong game by Fritsche, goalie Adam Dennis and Prust being Prust did the trick.
"We talked about it in the second intermission and we wanted to prove a point," Prust said. "We showed some character. We didn't want to let this one get away."
Translation: We might met them in the playoffs and don't want them thinking they can win in the JLC.
Funny thing about the playoffs. It's often the grinders who wind up being heroes.
Kell was a rookie last year. He turned out to be a playoff scoring star with seven goals and eight assists in 15 games.
Kell and Prust's eyes light up at the mention of the playoffs.
"I always love playoff time," Kell said. "I look forward to it all year. I know I'm ready to go and everyone else is really to go."
Prust is a guy who has dominated in the playoffs. But he has been around long enough to know it gets considerably more difficult in the postseason.
"We play harder but everyone plays harder," Prust said.
It is the nature of the playoffs that allows for players like Prust and Kell to excel.
"You never know what happens in the playoffs," Kell said. "Our goalscorers will score goals obviously. But anyone else can step forward and be the hero."