Teams try to stay cool

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 11:13 AM ET

The London Knights and Kitchener Rangers aren't just paying lip service to their OHL Western Conference final. The yipping started early in Game 1 and spilled over into the real thing at the final buzzer Thursday night, with the Knights' Corey Perry and Rangers' Michael Richards dropping the gloves and duking it out at centre ice.

"We have to try not to get in too many jawing matches and just stay focused on hockey," Richards said yesterday as the Rangers found themselves trailing 1-0 in the best-of-seven series heading into Game 2 tonight in Kitchener.

"It shows both of us will do anything to win the hockey game," he said. The two players were teammates on the gold-medal-winning Canadian junior team.

Richards must have been thinking what he could do to shake his shadow Thursday. Knights forward Brandon Prust did yeoman duty keeping him off the scoresheet until the final two minutes.

"I got into it (jawing) a little bit with him," Richards said.

"But they were doing it with our whole team, trying to get everybody off their game. As a leader (the captain), I've got to limit that and stay focused."

Asked if that was easier said than done, Richards replied: "Very. . . . You really want to say something but you've got to skate away from it."

Knights coach Dale Hunter wasn't happy to see his leading scorer go at it bare knuckles with Richards and risk injuring his hands.

"They're the two best players. You don't want to see either one of them doing it," Hunter said.

Richards has paid the price in the past.

"I've been in a couple of fights and I know the good times and the bad times. I've hurt my hands a little bit (and) it is tough to score goals when you do that, but you've got to do what you've got to do, I guess."

The chirping isn't new for the Knights. Other teams have said all season they hear comments, some even saying the Knights enjoy bragging.

"They might," Richards said. "Then again, if you look at their record, they can do that. Until somebody puts them in their place, they have the right to jaw and say a couple extra things."

With the Rangers having the last line change at home tonight, Richards said he may not see Prust as much.

"It will help take them away from different players on the ice in different situations.

"Maybe we can match Corey up with some defence."

Just like 9,090 fans at the John Labatt Centre can be a seventh player on the ice for the Knights, the Rangers use their 6,300 fans at the Memorial Auditorium to their advantage.

"We hear some of the chirps from our fans (to opposing teams) and they're pretty funny," Richards said. "The stands are so steep, it almost feels like the crowd is right on top of you."

Forward Rob Schremp said the Knights enjoy going into a hostile environment.

"We'll just have to stick with our game plan and do what we've done the other 38 road games this season," he said of their road performance that's seen them lose only six of 38 games, including none in the playoffs.

"We've done a good job of that on the road, striking first and staying disciplined and getting the first power play and kind of taking advantage of that.

"We just need to get a goal quick and I think that will settle it down."

As captain, it's Richards' role to make sure his team stays in the right frame of mind against a team that posted the best regular-season record in OHL history and is a perfect 9-0 in the postseason.

"The third period (Thursday) helped," he said. "We felt we played that period really well. We kept them in their zone a lot and we won the period 2-0."


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