Invincible Knights?

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:16 AM ET

Dale Hunter won't have to say much to his London Knights in his pre-game pep talk tomorrow night but he probably will remind them how upsetting the Ontario Hockey League playoffs can be.

Though the Knights recently completed a dream season in which they won 59 games, lost seven and set 14 OHL records, Hunter buys into the adage that anything can happen in the post-season. The Knights coach/co-owner witnessed as much three years ago, when London beat the Whalers in the first round despite finishing 27 points behind Plymouth.

"I say, 'Look what happened, guys,' " Hunter said before practice yesterday at the John Labatt Centre here in London. "You have to be mentally prepared or you can be beaten. It's hockey. It might never happen again, to have this type of season we have had. To go 31 games undefeated (to start the season) is unheard of. But it's a new season now."

The Knights, one of the several great junior hockey stories in the year of the NHL lockout, open the 2005 playoffs at home versus the Guelph Storm.

The Knights -- who ended the regular season with 63 more points than Guelph -- will play host to the Memorial Cup in May, but they have no interest in competing for junior hockey's big prize just because they already have their invitation.

"We have been talked up that we are the best team in junior and now it has come down to proving it," Knights captain Danny Syvret said. "You can lose four games (in one playoff series and be eliminated) and everything we've done means nothing. We want to earn our way to the Cup."

Some OHL observers figure the Owen Sound Attack or Kitchener Rangers could pull an upset, but the stars would have to be aligned rather perfectly for that to happen.

"I suppose the Knights could lose but if you ask me to bet my mortgage, I'm going with London all the way," an NHL scout said.

The Knights have had some company in the eye-opening department in junior hockey this season. Sidney Crosby and the Rimouski Oceanic went on a 28-game unbeaten streak to end the season and wound up first overall in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League; in the Western Hockey League, the Kootenay Ice and the defending Memorial Cup champion Kelowna Rockets were the only other major junior clubs to hit 100 points. Both had 104.

"Without the NHL, we've helped put junior hockey on the map," Syvret said. "It would be great to see Crosby and Rimouski come to the Memorial Cup. I would like to go to battle with the team that came close to our (unbeaten streak)."

It's not just pure talent that led to the Knights' amazing year. Hunter, along with his brother Mark (also a part-owner and the general manager) have infused an attitude that is equal parts seriousness and fun.

Dale Hunter is just as likely to dispense some advice as he is to fill a skate with shaving cream.

"Dale is probably one of the biggest jokesters on the team," said Corey Perry, who led the OHL with 130 points. "Mark and Dale make it fun for us. Everyone is like a family. We're all the little sons to coaching staff."

As clear cut as it may be that London should win the OHL's Western Conference, it's not so in the Eastern Conference. Favourites include the Mississauga IceDogs and Peterborough Petes, but arguments could be made for many of the eight clubs in the conference.

No matter.

If the Knights are there at the end, they'll be ready for whoever they face.

"It's tough not to compete when you have Hunters (as guides)," Syvret said. "It has been a hell of a year so far and hopefully we can top it off the right way."

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OHL WESTERN CONFERENCE QUARTER-FINALS

LONDON (1) VS. GUELPH (8)

SEASON SERIES

Knights won 4-1-1

THE SKINNY: The Storm's 167 goals in the regular season were the fewest among playoff teams ... London was the No. 1 with 27.8% success rate on power play, but Guelph was second in penalty killing at 84.5% ... Knights had nine players in top 10 in plus-minus, led by D Danny Syvret at plus-69 ... Storm has a bit of confidence after upsetting Knights in conference final last year.

PREDICTION: Knights in four

SERIES SCHEDULE

TOMORROW

Guelph at London, 7 p.m.

FRIDAY

London at Guelph, 7:30 p.m.

MONDAY, MARCH 28

Guelph at London, 7 p.m.

TUESDAY, MARCH 29

London at Guelph, 7 p.m.

THURSDAY, MARCH 31

x-Guelph at London, 7 p.m.

FRIDAY, APRIL 1

x-London at Guelph, 7:30 p.m.

Monday, April 4

x-Guelph at London, 7 p.m.

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SAULT STE. MARIE (2) VS. WINDSOR (7)

SEASON SERIES

Greyhounds won 4-1-1

THE SKINNY: The Soo was the hottest team in final 10, going 8-1-1 ... Centre Jeff Carter will play in Game 1 despite suffering hip flexor injury last week ... Neither of Windsor's goaltenders, Kyle Knechtel and Brad Topping, had season to write home about ... The Spitfires' power-play units clicked at 22.7%, second only to London during regular season.

PREDICTION: Greyhounds in six

SERIES SCHEDULE

FRIDAY

Windsor at Sault Ste. Marie, 7:30 p.m.

SATURDAY

Windsor at Sault Ste. Marie, 7:30 p.m.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 30

Sault Ste. Marie at Windsor, 7:30 p.m.

THURSDAY, MARCH 31

Sault Ste. Marie at Windsor, 7:30 p.m.

SATURDAY, APRIL 2

x-Windsor at Sault Ste. Marie, 7:30 p.m.

SUNDAY, APRIL 3

x-Sault Ste. Marie at Windsor, 6 p.m.

TUESDAY, APRIL 5

x-Windsor at Sault Ste. Marie, 7 p.m.

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OWEN SOUND (3) VS. PLYMOUTH (6)

SEASON SERIES

Attack won 3-0-1

THE SKINNY: Owen Sound set club records for most points (90) and fewest goals against (187) ... The Attack's top six forwards, led by Brad Richardson and Bobby Ryan, are the second-best in league after London's ... Maple Leafs prospect John Mitchell led Whalers with 75 points ... The Attack had 18 road wins, second to the Knights' 28.

PREDICTION: Attack in five

SERIES SCHEDULE

FRIDAY

Plymouth at Owen Sound, 7:30 p.m.

SATURDAY

Owen Sound at Plymouth, 7:30 p.m.

TUESDAY, MARCH 29

Plymouth at Owen Sound, 7 p.m.

THURSDAY, MARCH 31

Owen Sound at Plymouth, 7:30 p.m.

SATURDAY, APRIL 2

x-Plymouth at Owen Sound, 7:30 p.m.

SUNDAY, APRIL 3

x-Owen Sound at Plymouth, 6 p.m.

TUESDAY, APRIL 5

x-Plymouth at Owen Sound, 7 p.m.

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KITCHENER (4) VS. ERIE (5)

SEASON SERIES

Rangers won 5-3-0

THE SKINNY: Otters F Michael Blunden has four games left in 10-game suspension for throwing a stick into the stands ... There isn't much love lost during games between Rangers coach Peter DeBoer and Otters coach Dave MacQueen ... DeBoer expects C David Clarkson (ankle) and D Jakub Kindl (knee) to be ready for Game 1 but is not sure about D Boris Valabik (head).

PREDICTION: Rangers in six

SERIES SCHEDULE

FRIDAY

Erie at Kitchener, 7:30 p.m.

SATURDAY

Kitchener at Erie, 7:30 p.m.

MONDAY

Erie at Kitchener, 7 p.m.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 30

Kitchener at Erie, 7:30 p.m.

FRIDAY, APRIL 1

x-Erie at Kitchener, 7:30 p.m.

SATURDAY, APRIL 2

x-Kitchener at Erie, 7:30 p.m.

MONDAY, APRIL 4

x-Erie at Kitchener, 7 p.m.

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OHL EASTERN CONFERENCE QUARTER-FINALS

MISSISSAUGA (1) VS. ST. MICHAEL'S (8)

SEASON SERIES

IceDogs won 4-2-2

THE SKINNY: The Majors led OHL with seven overtime wins ... Only two Mississauga forwards -- Patrick O'Sullivan (90 points) and Tom Zanoski (50) -- had more than 45 points in the regular season ... IceDogs' defence corps, led by Anthony Butera and Kyle Quincey, is mobile and offensively dangerous ... St. Mike's success will hinge on play of G Justin Peters.

PREDICTION: IceDogs in seven

SERIES SCHEDULE

FRIDAY

St. Michael's at Mississauga, 7:30 p.m.

SUNDAY

Mississauga at St. Michael's, 2 p.m.

TUESDAY

St. Michael's at Mississauga, 7 p.m.

THURSDAY, MARCH 31

Mississauga at St. Michael's, 7:30 p.m.

SUNDAY, APRIL 3

x-St. Michael's at Mississauga, 2 p.m.

MONDAY, APRIL 4

x-Mississauga at St. Michael's, 7:30 p.m.

TUESDAY, APRIL 5

x-St. Michael's at Mississauga, 7 p.m.

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PETERBOROUGH (2) VS. BELLEVILLE (7)

SEASON SERIES

Petes won 6-0-0

THE SKINNY: Four of the six Petes' wins against Bulls were by one goal ... Belleville was the only club in OHL with less than 1,000 penalty minutes (992) ... Peterborough was second in the conference, but gave up 215 goals, most among playoff teams in the East ... Petes linemates Liam Reddox and Daniel Ryder both had 82 points ... Lack of depth up front could hurt Belleville.

PREDICTION: Petes in five.

SERIES SCHEDULE

TOMORROW

Belleville at Peterborough, 7 p.m.

SATURDAY

Peterborough at Belleville, 7:15 p.m.

SUNDAY

Belleville at Peterborough, 7 p.m.

TUESDAY

Peterborough at Belleville, 7:05 p.m.

THURSDAY, MARCH 31

x-Belleville at Peterborough, 7 p.m.

MONDAY, APRIL 4

x-Peterborough at Belleville, 7:05 p.m.

TUESDAY, APRIL 5

x-Belleville at Peterborough, 7 p.m.

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BARRIE (3) VS. OTTAWA (6)

SEASON SERIES

67's won 3-1-0

THE SKINNY: The Colts have a better group of forwards but 67's goalie Danny Battochio has the ability to out-duel his counterpart in the Barrie net, which will be Francois Thuot ... Ottawa's Mark Mancari had three hat tricks in March ... Loss of D Michael Root (ankle) is a blow for the Colts ... The 67's had 27 points on road, fewest among Eastern Conference playoff clubs.

PREDICTION: 67's in six

SERIES SCHEDULE

FRIDAY

Ottawa at Barrie, 7:30 p.m.

SATURDAY

Ottawa at Barrie, 7:30 p.m.

THURSDAY, MARCH 31

Barrie at Ottawa, 7:30 p.m.

FRIDAY, APRIL 1

Barrie at Ottawa, 7:30 p.m.

SUNDAY, APRIL 3

x-Ottawa at Barrie, 6 p.m.

MONDAY, APRIL 4

x-Barrie at Ottawa, 7:30 p.m.

TUESDAY, APRIL 5

x-Ottawa at Barrie, 7:30 p.m.

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BRAMPTON (4) VS. SUDBURY (5)

SEASON SERIES

Battalion won 4-3-1

THE SKINNY: The Wolves were only one of two teams to win twice at Brampton in the regular season ... Sudbury C Benoit Pouliot led rookies with 65 points ... G Daren Machesney is on track to start in net for Battalion ... Wolves led Eastern Conference with 1,647 penalty minutes ... Sudbury (0-7-6) was the only OHL team without an overtime win this season.

PREDICTION: Battalion in seven

SERIES SCHEDULE

TOMORROW

Sudbury at Brampton, 7:30 p.m.

FRIDAY

Brampton at Sudbury, 7:30 p.m.

SUNDAY

Sudbury at Brampton, 2 p.m.

WEDNESDAY, MARCH 30

Brampton at Sudbury, 7:30 p.m.

FRIDAY, APRIL 1

x-Sudbury at Brampton, 7:30 p.m.

MONDAY, APRIL 4

x-Brampton at Sudbury, 7:30 p.m.

TUESDAY, APRIL 5

x-Sudbury at Brampton, 7:30 p.m.

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x-if necessary


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