The wait is over: The London Knights face the Windsor Spitfires tomorrow in the second round of the OHL playoffs.
The Spitfires completed an amazing comeback last night by defeating the Soo Greyhounds 3-2 in double-overtime in Game 7 of their Western Conference quarter-final at Sault Ste. Marie. Windsor had lost the first three games.
For the Knights, the long days of practice are over. The team swept the Guelph Storm in the first round and hasn't played in nine days.
But it remains to be seen whether the frustration over finalizing a second-round schedule will filter down to the players.
Because the Spitfires and Greyhounds dragged out their seven-game series to the league-imposed, last possible day, London had to scramble yesterday to put together a tentative schedule with Windsor as a potential opponent.
The Knights wanted to start at home tonight, which posed no problem with Kitchener, which wrapped up its series in six games with Erie. But the Spits didn't want to travel to London today after getting home early this morning.
Knights GM Mark Hunter didn't like the results of his talks with Windsor. He felt his team was forced into giving the seventh-seeded Spits the right to hold Game 1 tomorrow night at Windsor Arena -- a situation rare but not unprecedented in past playoffs.
"It's not ideal. It's disappointing," Hunter said. "Windsor didn't want to play on Wednesday night. We proposed another schedule (with London playing host to the first two games) and (Windsor coach Dave Prpich) refused it.
"The leagues bylaws say they have that right, so what else are you going to do?
"We didn't go to (mediation) but we felt like our backs were against the wall. You only have a certain amount of times and dates the arena's available to play these games."
In the Windsor scenario, the Knights were compensated with back-to-back home dates for Games 4 and 5 of the series.
"We didn't get involved, but it comes down to arena availability and what's in the best interest of the kids," OHL director of hockey operations and referee-in-chief Ted Baker. "In a Sault and Owen Sound series, it would be a two-three-two format because of arena availability."
But Hunter was unhappy because it left Knights season ticket-holders with little time to decide whether to pick up Game 1 tickets for a possible Kitchener series.
Giving up a Game 1 to accommodate another team isn't new in area junior hockey circles. In the Western Junior B Hockey League quarter-finals this year, higher-seeded St. Thomas, which finished in second in the circuit, allowed the lower-seeded Tecumseh Chiefs to play the opener at home.
Tecumseh won 7-4 but the Stars rebounded to take the series in five games.
The most extreme recent example of deferring to an opponent is likely the 2002 Western men's volleyball team, which was up 1-0 in a best-of-three playoff series but defaulted the second match because it had been delayed in Windsor.
Rather than wait around until late in the night, the Mustangs opted to return home and prepare for Game 3. In the end, they handily beat the Lancers to advance to the next round.
KNIGHTS VS. SPITFIRES
Western Conference semifinal
Game 1: Tomorrow, 7:30 p.m. at Windsor
Game 2: Friday, 7:30 p.m. at London
Game 3: Sunday, 6 p.m. at Windsor
Game 4: Wednesday, April 13, 7 p.m. at London
Game 5: Friday, April 15, 7:30 p.m. at London, if necessary
Game 6: Sunday, April 17, 6 p.m. at Windsor, if necessary
Game 7: Monday, April 18, 7 p.m. at London, if necessary