Hard work a key for Knights

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 6:39 AM ET

Bryan Rodney has been down this road before, in another city, but the route looks familiar.

The London Knights defenceman will be playing in his second Memorial Cup here next month, and while there is great diversity between this team and his Ottawa 67's of 2001, the most important parallel is a marked one.

It's one of caring and respect.

"That's the way it was in Ottawa," said the veteran of three OHL teams. "Ottawa had a lot of good team guys and we did things together. It's the same here.

"There's a lot of veteran leadership and older guys, along with a hard-working bunch of young kids. We've got good captains and assistants, and obviously the best coach in the league."

That would be Dale Hunter, whose colleagues just judged him the league's top coach. The disparity in coaching experience between the teams is enormous.

Ottawa coach Brian Kilrea has been around almost since the first puck was made. Hunter took the reins of the Knights four seasons ago.

"I think the main difference is that Dale is somewhat new to coaching and brought in new systems and new procedures with video boards and scouting procedures," Rodney said.

"Killer (Kilrea) relies on what he has come to learn over the years."

As the Knights prepared for Windsor in Game 4 of their second-round playoff set at the John Labatt Centre last night, one of the things that has made the Knights Canada's top junior team is pretty basic. It's hard work.

"I would say the coaches here are much harder-working," offered Rodney, a Detroit Red Wings walk-on who was advised that a final year of junior with the high-flying Knights would be more valuable to his career than the Wings' American Hockey League affiliate in this turbulent NHL lockout year.

"This has been a plan for (the Hunter brothers), an ambition, and it has come together nicely.

"We see what effort they put into it. We see how much they want to win and it drives your hunger as players."

The top-scoring OHL defenceman with 76 points last season, Rodney was acquired in a trade that sent Adam Nemeth, Bobby Bolt and London's six-round draft pick in the upcoming draft to the Kingston Frontenacs, where he spent just over two seasons following a trade with Ottawa.

His homecoming was welcome on a number of counts, including the one on father Bill Rodney's odometer.

"I'll save 30,000 kilometres," chuckled the senior Rodney, now a London bank manager, who was a member of the 1972 Cornwall Royals and attended as many of his son's games as possible, including his under-17 tournament in Halifax.

He couldn't get to his son's Memorial Cup tournament in Regina, where rookie Bryan saw some ice time due to Ottawa injuries.

Bill Rodney said the Knights have one thing over the Memorial Cup 67's -- London is far deeper in talent.

Things could hardly have worked out better for Bryan Rodney. Coming home is part of it, but coming home to a team that will be playing host to the Memorial Cup is a fitting finale to a junior career.

"It's been great to come back," said the OHL defenceman of the month.

"All I have to care about is hockey. I'd suggest anyone who gets the chance to play here should take it."

As the national tournament comes closer, teammates are sure to be interested in his opinions on the competition. How will he respond?


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