Friendships go on shelf in OHL final

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:06 AM ET

Friendships will be put aside for the next three weeks when the London Knights and Ottawa 67's meet in the OHL championship series, then again in the Memorial Cup.

But there is no doubt these upcoming games will provide some great war stories that Dick Hunter, father of Knights owners Dale and Mark Hunter, and 67's coach Brian Kilrea will be be able to share down the road.

"They're great friends," Dale Hunter said yesterday on the relationship between his father and Kilrea.

"They're guys that love hockey, and they talk the same lingo all the time. We go to the National Hockey League drafts and Killer and dad are always together."

While the Knights are making just their third appearance in the OHL final in their 40-year history, this is Kilrea's ninth trip during his 28-year coaching career.

The Knights have never won; Kilrea has won three times.

"As Dale Hunter said, we are family friends. But I saw Dale when he broke into our league and he's just made to be a coach," Kilrea said from Ottawa by way of a telephone hookup to a media conference at the JLC.

"And Mark deserves credit for pulling out all the stops (with trades). He made sure if there were any spots that he could improve on, he did."

So much for the pleasantries between coaches. This series will be decided by the players.

The Knights are coming off a record-smashing season that saw them set or equal five Canadian Hockey League records and 16 OHL records.

The 67's are in the final after heading into the month of March with a playoff spot in jeopardy.

While the Knights have earned the respect and admiration of the hockey community with their season, the 67's grabbed the Knights' attention with their sweep of Peterborough in the Eastern Conference final.

The Knights scored the most goals this season, but the 67's had the most 20-goal scorers, with seven. The Knights had six in that department.

"They have three balanced lines," said Knights defenceman Danny Syvret. "We're going to have to be sharp every time we go on the ice.

"And Brian Kilrea's record speaks for itself. He's been successful on this stage before."

The Knights have a few things going for them, such as a potent power play. But that's struggled at times in the playoffs.

"We'll try to stay out of the penalty box because it's probably the best power play that I've ever seen in all the years I've been in junior hockey," Kilrea said.

"And that's a credit to the coaching staff that put it together and gave them the options."

Dale Hunter smiled when it was suggested that nobody should be lured in by Kilrea's kind remarks.

"It's special to coach against Killer. He's a great coach, a Hall of Famer," Hunter said.

"He's a good GM, too. He made the right trades to get them into the playoffs, then he got them playing really good."

The Knights come in still short-handed.

Defenceman Bryan Rodney has been skating this week to test his knee but his status will be a game-day decision.

Winger Trevor Kell is out likely until the Memorial Cup with a broken hand.

Winger Brandon Prust is eligible to return from suspension for Game 2 on Sunday at the JLC, while centre Josh Beaulieu returns from suspension for Game 3 on Tuesday in Ottawa.

KNIGHTWATCH

The OHL final: The London Knights and Ottawa 67's are playing for the J. Ross Robertson Cup. The best-of-seven series opens tomorrow at the John Labatt Centre at 7:30 p.m.

How they got here: The Knights swept both Guelph and Windsor, then beat Kitchener in five games in the Western Conference final. The 67's beat both Barrie and Sudbury in six, then swept Peterborough in the Eastern Conference final.

Zebras: Brad Beer of London, in his 11th season as a referee, is working his sixth OHL championship final. The others referees, both working their first final, are Mark Hicks, in his ninth season, and Terry Hobor, in his eighth. The linesmen are Joe Celestin of London, working his fifth final, and former Knights defenceman Brent Holdsworth, Mike Bolibruck, Ken Cox, Kevin Hastings, Chris Hodgins and Darren Price.


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