21 days to go

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 1:18 PM ET

Since the London Knights were awarded the Memorial Cup tournament last May, their focus has been on earning their way into the tournament.

Now the only team that stands in their way is the Ottawa 67's.

The Knights moved to the Ontario Hockey League final against the 67's by eliminating the Kitchener Rangers in five games with a 6-0 win last night at the John Labatt Centre.

While there was some doubt before and during this series about the outcome, the Knights proved they are the superior team.

The appreciative crowd clearly understood that, repeatedly honouring them with loud ovations.

This series was just what the doctor ordered for the Knights. They faced a tough team that had the ability to upset them and could be ornery and were forced to play them under less-than-ideal conditions.

The Knights appear to have settled on Adam Dennis as their No. 1 goalie.

They were successful not by blowing the Rangers out but by doing what they had to do to win.

In fact, it seemed the Knights actually got stronger as the series progressed.

In the last two games, they did it by playing strong team defence. Rob Schremp is a prime example.

Last year, he was benched for some of the Western Conference final. This year, he's putting the puck in the net, setting up his teammates and taking a responsible role in filling in defensively with the Knights checking line of Josh Beaulieu, Brandon Prust and Trevor Kell all out of the lineup.

Last night, he fought through a pair of checks to score the game's opening goal. In the second period, with his team on a power play and leading 2-0, Mike Richards of the Rangers broke into centre ice with only Knights forward Dave Bolland back. He beat Bolland and was about to shoot the puck when Schremp appeared from nowhere to take the puck off his stick.

Schremp put the game out of reach with his second goal of the game in the third period, giving the Knights a 4-0 lead.

"You can't score four or five goals each series," Schremp said. "But I've got some assists. Throw a few checks. You just do whatever you can to contribute.

"The forwards have been playing a good defensive game. We're coming back and helping out. The defence is taking a lot of abuse. Guys are taking runs at them. We just try and focus on that and get back and give them some relief."

Nothing has been easy this series and while the win in Game 4 in Kitchener gave the Knights a boost in confidence, the Rangers have resurrected themselves several times during this playoff season. The Rangers refused to pack it in.

If there is one thing the Knights didn't want, it was to look at their 3-1 lead as having three chances to make it to the OHL final.

"We looked at it as one chance," said Schremp. "We didn't want to go into a Game 6 or Game 7. If they win tonight it's back to 3-2 and they have momentum."

And because of the Knights' win in Game 4, it was easy to forget that this was still an understaffed hockey club. Injuries to Bryan Rodney and Trevor Kell and suspensions to Brandon Prust and Josh Beaulieu leave a large hole.

Last night, as the Knights smelled a trip to the OHL final, they seemed to forget the injuries and the fatigue.

"All the ice time was good," said Schremp. "It's unfortunate to have all the injuries but a guy like me likes a lot of ice time. Anyone can attest to that. The more ice time you get, the more you get into the game. The juices start flowing, your legs feel better."

But the opportunity for the younger players, players such as Adam Perry and Jordan Foreman, to play in a pressure-filled situation, will benefit them in the long run.

Now they'll get a chance to do the same thing while playing for the OHL championship.

Listen to Morris on Megan and Morris in the Morning every weekday morning on Newstalk1290 CJBK.

- LAST NIGHT

QMJHL

Chicoutimi at Rimouski (Rimouski leads 3-1)

WHL

Prince Albert at Brandon (Series tied 2-2)

Kelowna at Kootenay, 7 p.m. (Kelowna leads 3-1)

- TOMORROW

OHL

London at Kitchener, 7 p.m., if nec.

QMJHL

Rimouski at Chicoutimi, 4 p.m., if nec.

WHL

Kootenay at Kelowna, 8 p.m., is nec.

Brandon at Prince Albert, 8:30 p.m.

- AROUND THE OHL

The Ottawa 67's go into Peterborough tonight leading 2-0. The Petes' Kyle Raftis tossed the 67's a bone, so to speak, after Saturday's game when he picked up the puck and tossed it into the crowd at the Ottawa Civic Centre. The 67's were going to retrieve it as the pucks from each playoff win are taped to a goalie stick that hangs in their dressing room. It also would have been a keepsake for 67's goalie Danny Battochio, who stopped 37 shots for the 3-0 win, his first postseason shutout.

- AROUND THE WHL

Head coach Peter Anholt said his Prince Albert Raiders would split the first two games of their WHL Eastern Conference final with Brandon Wheat Kings. They did. After losing 4-2 on Friday, the Raiders beat the Wheat Kings 3-2 Saturday. "We came here for the split," said Anholt. "It would have been nice to get two but we didn't play well enough in Game 1 to do that." The Raiders will be at home for Games 3 and 4 tomorrow and Wednesday.

- AT THE JLC

Beginning tonight, full ballots will be available at Knights playoff games so you can help choose The London Free Press All-Time London Knights team. The team will be announced at the Memorial Cup opening banquet on May 20 at the London Convention Centre.

- DID YOU KNOW?

The Memorial Cup attendance record was set in 1999 when the host Ottawa 67's won the Cup, attracting 84,200 spectators for the eight-game series.


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