Tickets, playoff dates heat up Knights series

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 11:45 AM ET

London Knights fans are up in arms because the Kitchener Rangers have instituted a ticket policy that effectively shuts them out. And the team's general manager isn't happy because for the second series in a row, London won't play its first home game when they wanted to. "I'm 0-for-2," Mark Hunter said yesterday.

The Western Conference final between the Knights and Rangers won't begin for another five days, but the temperature is already heating up.

London fans, who packed the John Labatt Centre all season and who have been a vocal presence at road games in the team's first two playoff series, are steamed.

They fear Rangers fans will snap up the remaining 3,600 tickets for the first two games in Kitchener when they go on sale this morning.

Walkup sales begin for the general public today at 8 a.m. at the Memorial Auditorium box office and another at Centre in the Square.

Online ticket sales (centresquare. com) and phone orders (519-578-1570) won't be accepted until 10 a.m.

"It looks like we're going to have to drive down to Kitchener early in the morning or we'll be out of luck," said one local fan who called The Free Press yesterday to complain.

"Several of our friends are going to do the same thing."

Rangers chief operating officer Steve Bienkowski said it was never the intention to shut out London fans.

"I understand them feeling that way, but we have people in our community who have supported us for every game and it's important for them to have an opportunity to get tickets," Bienkowski said.

He said Rangers fans face the same situation in London.

"This is not meant to get back at London fans. The reality is, we have two teams that have a bigger demand than supply."

The Knights are already sold-out for the series and the league final, should London advance past Kitchener.

Knights assistant general manager Jim McKellar said any unclaimed season tickets go on sale the day before each game and suggested fans check with the box office (681-0800) or go online (ticketmaster.ca) for availability.

Meanwhile, the Ontario Hockey League was called in yesterday to mediate the dates for the best-of-seven series after the two teams couldn't agree on the first two dates.

The league sided with the Rangers and the series will open Thursday at the John Labatt Centre, with Game 2 a week tonight at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium.

Game 3 is Monday, April 25.

The Knights wanted to begin on Friday in London, with Game 2 in Kitchener on Sunday, April 24.

The league went with the Rangers' proposal to avoid the potential of playing back-to-back games twice in the series, said OHL commissioner David Branch.

"There was no hidden agenda," said Hunter, "but we wanted to start against Kitchener on Friday because it's our regular home night and our fans like that."

The Knights also lost with their proposed schedule for the conference semifinal against Windsor and were forced by the league to open that series on the road because the John Labatt Centre wasn't available.


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