For Knights, OHL title is the goal

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 9:03 AM ET

Don't suggest to the London Knights and Ottawa 67's that they're only going through the motions until the Memorial Cup begins.

London and Ottawa are both in the Cup, which opens May 21 at the John Labatt Centre.

But an OHL championship ring is an OHL championship ring.

There is also that dark cloud hanging over the Knights, that in 39 previous years this franchise has never won an OHL title.

"Our fans (have) been wanting that. And to be the first team to give them that, it will be a bit of an honour," said captain Danny Syvret. The best-of-seven series starts Friday at the JLC.

There is also an issue of pride.

"To be ranked first place all year . . . you carry yourself with pride," Syvret said. "And to fall short of an OHL championship would be bit of a disappointment."

London already is in the Memorial Cup as host team.

But ever since training camp, the Knights players have talked of winning the OHL championship -- and going in the Cup tournament through the "front door."

Hockey purists consider going in as host team as the "back door," even though those teams usually must prove they'll be worthy hosts before being awarded the event. But there is still that stigma that the host team didn't earn its way. A first salvo was fired by the 67's over-age centre Brad Bonello.

"We feel like we can accomplish something by winning the OHL final and get into the Memorial Cup the way you're supposed to," Bonello told the Ottawa Sun.

If the Knights win, there would be a stigma attached to the 67's -- that they're in the Memorial Cup as the runnerup.

"We don't want to lose," Bonello said. "We don't want to be embarrassed. Everybody on this team still wants to win."

It has been suggested that the OHL Western Conference final between the Knights and Kitchener Rangers was the true OHL final.

"I don't think it's fair to say that when there's still another opponent to play," Syvret said.

"I imagine if you ask Ottawa that, they're going to try to make it the best series possible."

The Knights will be going on six days' rest, the 67's on eight days after clinching the Eastern final on Wednesday. The 67's swept Peterborough, the first time Ottawa has had the luxury of enjoying a good rest between series.

Their conference quarter-final with Barrie went six games. The semifinal with Sudbury also went six.

The Knights are accustomed to down-time. They swept Guelph, then Windsor, before going five with Kitchener.

"I was surprised that Peterborough didn't give them more of a run," Syvret said. "I expected a little more out of (the Petes) but I guess Ottawa is clicking at the right time."

With the 67's already sitting, the Knights wanted to get the Kitchener series over quickly.

"We wanted to get as much rest as possible, with the injuries we have," Syvret said.

"It's nice not to have to play the extra two games with guys out there sacrificing their bodies to block shots. And that's how most guys are getting injured.

"To be able to rest up is something that will help us along the road (and) I don't think Ottawa's had much rest.

"So this will be good for them. They've been through a long haul."

Syvret isn't afraid the competitive edge will wear off his team. "We're a mentally strong team and it will just give us that much more time to prepare."

He also is looking forward to playing legendary 67's coach Brian Kilrea, who is making his 10th trip to the final.

"He's an intimidating coach," said Syvret. "I haven't had a chance to play for him, but it seems whenever we've played against him or I've seen him on TV, he's always demanding everything out of his players."

Knights goaltender Adam Dennis, who registered his second playoff shutout Friday, said the pressure is on the Knights, but he welcomes it.

"Because we're the top team, we're expected to perform," he said. "And so far we've done pretty well -- and we're not done by a longshot."

OHL CHAMPIONSHIP

The series: The Knights and Ottawa 67's meet for the OHL championship. The first game in the best-of-seven series is Friday at the John Labatt Centre.

Season series: London won both its games, 5-3 at home on Nov. 19 and 5-0 at Ottawa on Jan. 23.

In case you're scoring: This is the Knights' third appearance in the final, losing to Ottawa in 1977 and Belleville in 1999. The 67's are making their 10th trip to the final, winning in 1977 against the Knights, 1984 versus Kitchener and 2001 against Plymouth.

What they're playing for: The J. Ross Robertson Cup was first presented in 1934 to Toronto St. Michael's College. Robertson was president of the Ontario Hockey Association during 1901-05.

Big winners of the past: Since its inception, the Robertson Cup has been won by 20 different teams. The Oshawa Generals lead with 11 championships, including seven in a row beginning in 1938. The Toronto Marlboros have made the most final appearances, 15.


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