Knights try to offset inertia

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

Some might say the London Knights are about to take on their toughest foe this OHL postseason -- the London Knights.

Faced with the possibility of going more than a week without playoff competition while potential second-round opponents Erie and Kitchener continue to slug it out, the Knights will resort to intrasquad games in practice to stay sharp and retain a competitive edge.

"It's a fine line," head coach Dale Hunter said yesterday. "It's nice to have a rest (following a first-round sweep of Guelph) but you don't want to go too long without a game.

"We'll be scrimmaging a lot this week and doing a lot of in-game simulations with line changes and faceoffs, that sort of thing."

With monster trucks at the John Labatt Centre, the team is practising at the Western Fair Sports Centre for the next few days.

Knights GM Mark Hunter said he has no idea when the second round will begin, and won't until he finds out which team London will face.

The Knights say they don't care what team they play next.

Heading into tonight's action, Kitchener and Erie are tied at two games apiece in their Western Conference quarter-final.

Three of the first four were decided in overtime.

"It doesn't matter who it is, but it's better to be resting right now than getting the crap knocked out of you," said Knights assistant coach Jeff Perry.

"But when the next series starts, whoever it is, it won't matter. Everyone wants to knock us off and they'll be ready, no matter what it took for them to get there."

In terms of travel, the desired opponent would be the Rangers. Kitchener is only an hour away while Erie is a four-hour, round-the-lake bus ride. But on the ice, the Knights handled the Otters more comfortably than the Rangers in the regular season.

London outscored Erie 33-5 in their six meetings and the Otters didn't score more than one goal in any game.

London also beat Kitchener six times but only outscored the Rangers 24-14. Five of those six games were decided by one or two goals.

Dale Hunter said he and his coaching staff will be in Kitchener tonight and will scout the rest of the series. They already have a videotape of Game 1.

"It's good to get a look at what the teams are doing," he said. "You might pick up a few things."

Much like the Guelph series, the Knights will encounter plenty of clutching and grabbing in the second round in an effort to slow down their skilled forwards.

However, the Hunters have been pleased with the way obstruction has been called.

"The league has enforced it well," Mark Hunter said. "I think the clutching and grabbing makes for boring hockey. It's important to let the talented players be able to play. That's what the fans like to see."

The Hunters should know. Four years ago, it was the Knights' clutch-and-grab style of play that had ex-Guelph coach Jeff Jackson accusing them of playing "prehistoric hockey." But after accumulating a number of skilled players through the draft and trades, it is now the Knights who want to focus on the finer points of the game without constant interference.

"We have talent, and you want to work with what you got and play that kind of style," said Dale Hunter.

Jeff Perry, who watched the Knights' evolution from the outside as Sarnia's head coach and now on the inside the past two years, said the team capitalized on the changing of the times in junior hockey.

"A couple of years ago, the rules changed and the OHL wanted to take after the model of the NHL, which said it was cracking down on obstruction. That meant talented players would be able to thrive, so you had to go out and get that kind of player."

All that restless talent needs now is for the playoffs to resume.


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