Girardi not defensive about pressure

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:23 AM ET

When he steps onto the ice at the war zone, er, arena in Kitchener tonight, it won't be foreign territory for London Knights defenceman Dan Girardi.

He's been there before and not just at the Memorial Auditorium. Suddenly cast as defence corps leader along with Marc Methot, pending MRI tests on captain Danny Syvret, he knows a bit about pressure.

He came up against many of these same Knights about this time a year ago as a member of the Guelph Storm.

"Last year was a challenge," said Girardi, who was acquired by the Knights in January in a deal that is looking pretty good. "The Knights were the top-ranked team and we were the underdog. It was a battle. Game 7 in London was one of the biggest games I ever played in. The atmosphere here was incredible."

It's not as though the Knights, up two games to one, are going into Game 4 as underdogs. But with Syvret doubtful, the main workload falls to veterans Girardi and Methot. As the season developed, Syvret, Bryan Rodney, Methot and Girardi had become the four horsemen of the Knights' blue-line.

Syvret was taken to hospital with a suspected concussion after he was hammered head-first into the boards during the second period of Monday night's game. He was still feeling the effects yesterday.

Veteran Rodney is listed as day-to-day, but there are suggestions it is more week-to-week and that the upper body injury, as per NHL transverse misinformation (opposite part of the anatomy than is actually injured), is more like lower leg. Frank Rediker has been out since he reinjured his knee in November and Jeff Whitfield had a pin inserted in his ankle a month ago.

That leaves a pretty good workload for the two remaining vets and some trial by fire for the younger defencemen. The average ice time for Girardi and Methot, close to 30 minutes a game, will increase.

Both feel ready.

"I love being on the ice because it makes you feel you're in the game more, getting hit, throwing hits," Girardi said. "I know Marc and I are looked at to step up and we welcome it."

Hockey players love to play, of course. Moreover, at a personal level it presents a greater opportunity for the undrafted Girardi to get the attention of NHL scouts.

Methot, a draft pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets, said he enjoys all challenges.

"More responsibility is that much more fun. It's not something you want, because you want your top two defencemen in the lineup, but when players are out, you just do it. The younger guys also have to step up and they have."

How much ice time a junior defenceman can take on before the legs begin to wobble is an important consideration any time in a season. When faced with a playoff opponent that clearly sees the path to victory through causing cracks in your defence with a relentless pounding, it's more critical.

Methot said everyone trained all summer to be prepared for all eventualities. He feels he could put in 40 minutes if need be.

"I can recall playing almost the entire game in minor hockey (in Ottawa) but it's not easy at this level," he said. "Still, I can handle whatever ice time they give me."

Rookie defencemen Steve Ferry, Ryan Martinelli and Matt McCready acquitted themselves reasonably well when spotted as Monday's game wore on, but that was when the Knights were running away to their 6-1 victory.

If tonight's game is a tight one, Methot and Girardi have their work cut out.


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