In the nine days since he last played a hockey game, Rob Schremp got a new haircut and broke in a new pair of skates.
Now, all he and his London Knights teammates need is to get back that old feeling of playoff intensity when they hit the road to take on the battle-weary Windsor Spitfires tonight in Game 1 of their OHL Western Conference semifinal series.
"Last year, we won the first two series (including a first-round sweep of Windsor) in four games and had to sit around for a while, so we're used to it," Schremp said.
"We'll be ready to go. The only disappointing thing is not being able to open at home (because the John Labatt Centre isn't available and the Spits wouldn't start the series last night). We earned that right to be at home for Game 1 in front of our fans so that's definitely a little weird."
It isn't the first time a top seed has surrendered a series opener to accommodate scheduling. Just last year, the Mississauga IceDogs opened on the road against the Barrie Colts, who won that game but lost the series.
In 1999, the lower-seeded Knights opened at the Ice House in the Western Conference final when Owen Sound's arena wasn't available. London won the series.
This week, the top-ranked Knights watched the scrappy Spitfires knock off the Soo Greyhounds.
Windsor's four straight victories were all by one goal and three came in sudden death, including a 3-2 double-overtime effort in Game 7 at Sault Ste. Marie Tuesday night.
"I know how tough it was to have to come back from 3-1 down (against Guelph last year) before losing in Game 7," Schremp said. "I can't even imagine what it was like to come back from 0-3 down. It had to be draining on them. But they have momentum from that and we're going to have to go in there and jump on them.
"You don't want a team like that hanging around and keeping it close."
London forward Josh Beaulieu, who grew up 20 minutes from Windsor in Comber, knows the Spits have a healthy work ethic and don't shy away from physical play. He dropped the mitts in four of the six meetings this year.
"We know them well -- they won't quit," he said. "I don't think we'll be rusty. I think we'll get right at it and go to work. We have to start on the road but we haven't lost many road games this year."
London head coach Dale Hunter is going with Adam Dennis as his starting goalie tonight over Gerald Coleman.
The Knights have had an advance scout at almost all of Windsor's home games this year because OHL schedule-makers usually send teams on the road to face the Spits on Thursday night and then into London the following evening.
Knights assistant coach Jeff Perry, who lives in Sarnia, is usually the man.
"It's not that far a drive," he said with a grin. "Windsor works hard and they had five 20-goal scorers this year so you can't take them lightly."
Knights vs. Spitfires
Tonight: Game 1 of the best-of-seven OHL Western Conference semifinal, 7:30 p.m. at Windsor Arena
Tomorrow: Game 2, 7:30 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre
TV: Both games on Rogers 13
March 11: London 5 vs. Windsor 1
Feb. 24: London 7 at Windsor 3
Jan. 6: London 5 at Windsor 2
Dec. 3: London 4 vs. Windsor 3
Oct. 8: London 8 vs. Windsor 0
Sept. 30: London 2 at Windsor 1