Knights determined to win OHL crown

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 1:16 PM ET

The London Knights were determined they would not back into their Memorial Cup tournament.

They moved one step closer to fulfilling that goal last night.

Now, the only team that stands in the way of their first Ontario Hockey League championship is the Ottawa 67's.

The Knights moved into the league final by eliminating the Kitchener Rangers in five games with a 6-0 win at the John Labatt Centre.

The Knights have heard it all since they were awarded the Memorial Cup tournament last May. They got it because of their building. They got it because in their 40-year existence they'd never been to a Memorial Cup.

It made the Knights more determined than ever to go into the tournament by the front door. That's why, despite both the 67's and Knights being guaranteed a spot in the tournament, the Knights will focus on winning an OHL title.

"That's what we've talked about all year in the dressing room," said Corey Perry, sporting a stitched lip. "We didn't want to go in the back door. Our goal was to win the OHL championship. We were going to do it one step at a time. We want to go in the front door."

The Knights put together a season like no other in OHL history, proving they earned the right to stage the Memorial Cup tournament. Now they are one series win away from proving they belong there whether they were awarded the event or not.

"We talked about it between the second and third period," said Rob Schremp, who had a two-goal night.

"We said, 'Lets get another goal and put it away because we're going to get a chance to go in the front door.' "

While there was some doubt before and during this series about the outcome, the Knights dismissed those questions. They were a superior team to the Rangers, by far the best team in the Western Conference.

The loud, appreciative crowd understood that, repeatedly honouring them with ovations throughout the game, especially in the third period.

They faced a relentless team with the ability to upset them. They were forced to play them under less than ideal conditions with injuries and suspensions dogging them. The series has provided them with a No. 1 goalie in Adam Dennis. And the Knights' success was not predicated on great offence but on doing what they had to do to win.

The Knights actually got stronger as the series progressed. They'll be game sharp against the 67's.

The Wayne Gretzky Trophy sat in the middle of the Knights dressing room, a symbol of how things changed from last year's conference final when the Guelph Storm eliminated the Knights.

And how different it was for Schremp. Last year he was benched for some of that final. This year he's putting the puck in the net, setting up his teammates and taking a responsible role defensively.

Last night he scored two goals, the first the game winner and the fourth that put it out of reach.

But in the second period, with his team on a power play and up 2-0, the Rangers' Mike Richards broke into centre ice with only Knights forward Dave Bolland back. He beat Bolland and was ready to shoot when Schremp appeared out of nowhere to take the puck off his stick.

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

And so it was with this series, this season in fact. The Knights have done whatever they need to do to win.

It's why they are one step away from going into the Memorial Cup as champions.


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