That noise? Spitfires crashing

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:58 AM ET

That noise from the Windsor Arena last night was loud and raucous Spitfire fans trying to inspire their team to new heights.

But the biggest noise was the sound of the team crashing back to earth.

Windsor's Round 1 comeback against the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds has reinvigorated the junior hockey atmosphere in this city. The Spitfires became the first OHL team since 1988 to come back and win a series after being down 3-0.

Last night, the Knights provided a dose of reality, winning 8-0 and giving London a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series.

Yes, the Spitfires were tired. Yes, they're enormous underdogs. And, yes, no one expects them to win. But they did themselves no favour by playing stupid hockey.

The Windsor Arena, once hallowed junior hockey ground, has become fallow in recent years. The Spitfires play in an 80-year-old building that at one time was a terror for opposing teams.

How things change. The Spitfires have yet to put 4,000 in the building this year. Only 3,790 showed up last night, many of them Knights fans.

But it was almost like old times with the noise, which could be intimidating. The Spitfires played well in the first period and even though they were down 2-0 they weren't allowing the Knights an abundance of chances.

So with the atmosphere the way it was, why not return to the type of hockey often seen between these two teams in the past -- tough, hard and physical?

Then, for whatever reason, the Spitfires lost their mind, their composure and any chance they had of keeping things respectable. They took an astonishing number of stupid penalties, the worst being a five-minute major and game misconduct to Steve Downie that opened the flood-gates.

It became a whirlwind of slashing and hacking as the Spitfires whirled their sticks on whoever happened to be in the vicinity. There was a long procession to the penalty box.

Knights coach Dale Hunter has been quoted in the past as saying if a team takes needless, senseless, cheap-shot penalties against his team, he'll send out his top powerplay team to punish them.

That he did. The Knights scored five power-play goals in the second to take a 7-0 lead.

Everything Dylan Hunter shot seemed to find the net. He had four goals. Rob Schremp had a power-play goal and was Public Enemy No. 1 with the fans when he took a slash to the back of the leg by Paul Giallonardo, was limping badly but came back to score.

"He slashed me on the back of the leg and it went numb. Everyone thought I was faking," said Schremp. "The first 10 minutes they came out flying. They were playing good physical hockey, not being chippy. Then they decided they wanted to start two-handing instead of hitting. It should be a lesson learned but if they want to give us five power-play goals a game that's fine with us."

Schremp believes in punishing the transgressor as Hunter does. That's why he was so anxious to score a goal. It was followed by an emphatic uppercut fist pump toward the crowd. "After that guy two-handed me, he skated by and said next time he's going to break my leg, so to get even I wanted to score a goal. Slash me all night for all I care."

The jury is out on whether physical play will be effective against the Knights. But taking goofy penalties has proven time and again that all that buys you is grief because this team doesn't rattle very easily.


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