Prust made good on his vow

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:30 AM ET

Brandon Prust manages to disguise any sympathy he might instinctively harbour for the underdog as his London Knights prepare for their fourth game against the under-manned and over-matched Windsor Spitfires tomorrow night.

He wants to bury them in a sweep.

"We want to close it out Wednesday and start to concentrate on the next round," the rugged winger said.

You might have heard of Prust. Local kid, undrafted. Walk-on with the Knights, consigned to junior B Nationals, vows he'll be back.

They all say that, usually without conviction. Prust meant it and, three years later, he's a Knight on the top line with an NHL career awaiting with Calgary Flames.

Don Brankley, who has seen them come and go for 35 years, remembers Prust handing over his Knights' gear when he was sent down three seasons ago and thinking, when he heard the I'll-be-back promise, this kid will be back.

The veteran trainer gave an unspoken description of the tough winger's development with a gesture showing a rapidly rising arc on an imaginary graph.

Being a local has its pluses and minuses, Prust said, with advantages outweighing disadvantages.

"There are a lot more ups than there are downs," he said. "To be able to stay with my family and have all my friends is definitely a plus. There's some pressure but nothing I can't deal with. It could be a good learning curve for the future."

Some heat comes off when a kid plays a long way from home rather than in front of dozens of family, friends and neighbours. And hometown guys automatically have to become tour guides of a sort.

"There was a lot more of that at first," he said with a laugh. "We'd be going go a restaurant and I'd know a waiter or waitress and they'd kind of razz me about it. But it's been good to be able to help out with directions, explaining how to get to certain places such as stores or where to park."

Prust has become a fan favourite at the John Labatt Centre and not necessarily because he's a local. Interestingly, the top two Knights come from opposite ends of the scale. After Knights' top OHL draft pick Corey Perry, the undrafted Prust is the most popular Knight as a result of his boundless work ethic and passion.

Moreover, guys who play a physical game and will drop the gloves without hesitation get an automatic boost on the hometown fan meter. Prust will be in action tomorrow despite being thrown from Game 3 in Windsor for being third man into a fight. Teams can buy back a one-game suspension for $100 during the playoffs.

"It's been a feisty series," he said. "They're trying to get under our skin a bit. Third man in? I was fourth or fifth -- there were already two or three of their guys on Corey (Perry)."

Prust made the team by dint of his own efforts and it didn't hurt that the Knights' brain trust attaches considerable value to hard work and being coached. Some teams give free agents short shrift.

It has been a dream come true with some nightmarish overtones for him. He was sidelined with a hairline fracture of the jaw courtesy of an opponent's elbow in January and didn't get back until two weeks before the playoffs.

He sees a potential upside in it, though. He suspects he might have fresher legs as the Memorial Cup progresses next month. This guy sees positives in everything, even a series in which the Knights have outscored Windsor 22-4 in three games.

"One good thing about it is we've been able to get some of the younger guys some playoff experience," Prust said.

This underdog is an underdog no more.


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