Dressing room a chatty spot

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:43 AM ET

There was some between-periods carping in the London Knights dressing room last night en route to their tenuous victory over the Windsor Spitfires, but it wasn't out of character.

Nope. They rag at each other regularly, so when Canada's best junior team falters a tad, the self-critique is not far behind. If you're the target, you take it, captain Danny Syvret explained.

Everything is up-front with no secret zingers, no back-stabbing. It is another part of the franchise mystique.

"We sort of call each other out individually, but we have so much respect for each other, we take what comes," the slick defenceman explained after last night's 2-1 victory sent Windsor packing in four straight games. "Sometimes there'll be a bit of an argument and other guys will jump in. But for the most part, you take any criticism to heart."

The customary 9,090 John Labatt Centre fans probably were expecting another steamroller job over the outmanned Spitfires. But it is one of the verities of sports -- every team has a shot, however meagre, and the Spits weren't about to roll over. It got the Knights talking.

"Guys pipe up all the time and if they feel someone isn't pulling his weight, he'll hear about it," Syvret added. "Right after we come in from a period, things are said right away. If anybody sees something he wants to get off his chest, he can speak up."

After the first period of this one, it must have been particularly chatty in the London boudoir. The Knights, who had been turning the series into a turkey shoot by scoring 24 goals while allowing four in the previous three games, were slow off the mark.

Cautious, the Spitfires fell behind 1-0 but mustered 14 shots against London's six.

"We sort of took the first period off and were lucky to be ahead," Syvret said. "We knew we had to pick up our play because they were coming at us hard. We talked about it and did it."

That largely teenaged athletes can indulge in picking apart one another's contribution, or lack of it, speaks as many volumes as the players do in their sweaty locker-room addresses. Accountability and maturity come to mind.

They'll need it for the task ahead, which is to win their way into the Memorial Cup here May 20-29, not get in because they are the host.

While goaltender Gerald Coleman was seeing more shots than he should have and doing a solid job of stopping them, the London-Windsor finale saw leading scorer Corey Perry in a spirited main event against Windsor slugger Steve Downie. The long reach of Perry scored several points with an over-the-linesman style of punch before Downie was chased for instigating it in the first place.

"He takes a lot of abuse from guys trying to get him off his game but he usually brushes it off," Syvret said. "Sometimes he gets a little frustrated but for the most part, he does a good job of ignoring it."

It was an off game for London, clearly, a game in which the Windsor trap and simple defensive stance blunted the Knights attack.

Syvret looked ahead to Kitchener as the challenges grow.

"They're a hard-working team and their penalty kill is very strong," the captain offered. "It will be an interesting series. Every time we went in there it was a hard-fought battle. We beat them six times but you can't look at that and say the series will be easy."

There will, of course, be more locker-room confabs as the Knights continue to be their own sternest critics. It's a healthy sign for a team that won 59 games out of 68 starts.


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