Knights in for tougher series

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:49 AM ET

The London Knights consider a competitive hockey series overrated.

While many fans thirst for a tight, exciting, back-and-forth series to add some spice to what's been an average playoff season so far, the Knights would be just as happy to continue their pattern of winning four straight games and taking time off. After all, no team cares how it wins as long as it does.

Unless everyone is way off the mark, what promises to be a darn fine hockey series will begin Thursday night at the John Labatt Centre.

The Knights and Kitchener Rangers begin their best-of-seven Ontario Hockey League Western Conference final and only the most optimistic fan, from either side, is predicting a sweep.

But as this most improbable of Knights seasons continues, a season when they set many records and are the hands-down favourites to win the OHL title, comparisons to past teams, as improbable as that seems, continue.

The Knights remain undefeated through two playoff series. The 1988 Windsor Spitfires are the only team in OHL history to go through the league playoffs without defeat. They won 12 games (they had a bye in their second-round series) in getting to the Memorial Cup.

How did they do in the tournament? More about that later.

That Spitfire team boasted players like Adam Graves, Darrin and Darryl Shannon, former NHL coach Paul Maurice, goalies Pat Jablonski and Peter Ing and a centre by the name of Peter DeBoer.

Yes, the same Pete DeBoer who is coaching the Rangers.

Dave Prpich, coach of the Spitfires, was an assistant to coach Tom Webster in 1988. He says the 2005 Knights and 1988 Spits are alike.

"We had a significant streak of our own," said Prpich, talking about the Knights' record 31-game undefeated streak to open this season. "When we got to the Memorial Cup final we'd lost one game in the last 35 we played and it was against the Knights at the Gardens.

"Our team played a lot like the current London team. We had extreme confidence. We were a real solid team in goal, on defence, throughout the forward lines. You couldn't intimidate that team. You can't intimidate this London team."

Prpich's opinion is good news. The Knights need to be confident going into a tough Kitchener Auditorium. It's also good news they can't be intimidated because the Rangers are big and can hit.

There are more similarities.

"My feeling was we waltzed through the playoffs rather easily," said Prpich. "We had an awful lot of time off. We played the first round, we had to take a bye in the second round. We were off for two weeks, 11 days and after the next series 12 or 13 days. Even though we were 3-0 in the Memorial Cup, I didn't think we were sharp."

There will be no waltz in this series, more like a long-term session in a mosh pit.

Knights assistant coach Jacques Beaulieu has no concerns about the time off his club has had.

"It's good mentally for kids to have time off," he said. "It's nice for them to go out and do something different instead of being in the rink. It gives us as coaches a better chance to prepare, look at game tapes.

"The kids are healthy and getting geared up."

There is one area in which those Spitfires and these Knights are dissimilar. The Knights are under the microscope and in the national media. Not so for those Spitfires. Will the glare make it more difficult for the Knights?

"We didn't create as much of a buzz as the Knights do," said Prpich. "They play in a big, new building and get lots of attention. Even then our crowds weren't that big."

So what did happen to the Spitfires team with DeBoer as centre?

They made the Memorial Cup final against the Medicine Hat Tigers. They'd won 37 of 38 games. After 12 minutes the Spitfires led 3-0, with DeBoer scoring a goal.

But the Tigers came back to win 7-6.

The Knights will be in the tournament no matter what happens. But their performance against a high-calibre Rangers team will give everyone a better idea of how it may pan out.


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