Knights play dream opener

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:33 AM ET

OTTAWA -- Dan Fritsche and Rob Schremp didn't get to play against Sidney Crosby at the world junior hockey championship.

The U.S. never made it to the much-anticipated gold-medal game with Canada.

The two Americans now have their opportunity and it comes in the opening game of the Memorial Cup, May 21 at the John Labatt Centre.

The London Knights versus the Quebec league champion Rimouski Oceanic. It's a dream opener and it came true Tuesday when the Oceanic eliminated the Halifax Mooseheads.

"It's not only me and Rob who are excited, the whole team is excited to play him," Fritsche said yesterday.

Three of the four teams -- the Knights, Ottawa 67's and Oceanic -- are confirmed for the nine-day tournament. All that's left is the Western league champion.

Fritsche said because the Oceanic had a 3-0 series lead heading into Tuesday's game, "It wasn't a big surprise that they're coming, but now it's guaranteed. We want to see what we can do against him. It's going to be a good opportunity. There's no denying he's the real thing. He's a powerful player and he's not afraid to do anything. He takes the puck and knows how to control the game.

"But we have probably one of the best teams in junior hockey and we have guys that are going to shut him down -- and we're going to take a lot of pride in doing that.

"We have a lot of guys who are excited to have him coming into town and we're going to try to steal the show from him."

The Knights are still focused on the OHL championship series, but Schremp knows how he'll handle the hype that's going to surround the 17-year-old Crosby, destined for NHL stardom.

"He's no different than Mike Richards of Kitchener, Ryan Callahan of Guelph, who we've played against in the playoffs," Schremp said. "There's always a star guy on each team you kind of focus on and I don't think it's any different with Sidney.

"But I really think we're going to focus on our game and make them adjust to us. We were No. 1 in Canada all year and I think we're going to show why we are and it's not going to be about Rimouski, it's going to be about London."

Winning the opener is going to be huge as the loser will have to win all its remaining games in the round-robin.

"The hype is going to be good," Schremp said. "It's going to be a good game for us to prove ourselves and for them to prove themselves.

"It's great to get it out of the way."

Knights general manager Mark Hunter arrived in Ottawa yesterday after scouting Games 3 and 4 of the Quebec final in Halifax.

"Crosby is the real deal," Hunter said. "Whatever has been said about him is true and more. And they've got a good team.

"They were patient and this was on the road. They weren't run-and-gun and we're going to have to play smart. They can turn it up another notch. They were down 2-1 and all of a sudden, boom-boom, and it was 4-2 and they go back in a defensive mode and you ain't going to get much."

But Hunter cautioned this isn't about just one game for the Knights.

"There's going to be a lot of excitement and not just from the first game, but right through the Memorial Cup."

The Knights Corey Perry and Danny Syvret know a lot about Crosby. The three were teammates as they won gold at the world juniors in Grand Forks, N.D.

"There's going to be a lot of hype in London and it's going to be fun," Perry said. "It's going to be a challenge for everyone to rise to the occasion. (But) he's not going to be anybody's head. He's just another player.

"Everybody knows about him all over the world . . . but our team is built from our end out, defence first . . . (and) our defence will stop their offence.

"If we get on him early and get under his skin and take away his time and space, he can't do the things he normally does. If we can (do that), it will be that much better for us."

Syvret said he hasn't seen anyone more relentless than Crosby.

"The second and third efforts are always equal to his first. You think you have him and then he'll slip the puck by you or pick your stick."


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