Girardi helps Knights give dominant effort

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:31 AM ET

His body and face are road maps to the long and difficult journey the London Knights have taken to get here. One more win and they'll win an OHL championship, the first in their 40-year history.

The Knights are close enough to the OHL title that they can taste it. Last night they defeated the Ottawa 67's 4-1 to take a 3-1 lead in the final.

Daniel Girardi has been a member of the team for less than five months. When he came to London in a trade with the Guelph Storm, the Knights knew they were getting a solid defender.

That trade may wind up as the most important the team made this year.

Girardi is rarely named a star, yet in most games one can't go wrong by naming him. Along with Bryan Rodney, Danny Syvret and Marc Methot, he completes a corps that has allowed the Knights to set defensive records. When Rodney got hurt, the other three put in phenomenal amounts of ice time, blocking shots and being punished by the opposing forwards.

Girardi looks like he has gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson. He has bruises all over his body. His face features blackened eyes and a cut nose. He still has his ears, though.

But when that defence is playing well, when the forwards are coming back to help, the Knights are almost unbeatable.

So it was last night. When the Knights took a 2-1 lead in the fourth minute of the second period, the 67's might as well have skated off the ice. That's how completely they were shut down.

They allowed only four scoring chances in the final 40 minutes. They did what champions have to do: They refused to let the 67's get back in the game or dictate the pace, refusing to give the 67's any hope. It was a dominant performance.

If the Knights play like they did last night when they come out for Game 5, the J. Ross Robertson Trophy won't be leaving London.

Ottawa coach Brian Kilrea wasn't happy with the effort his team put out. But he recognized that the Knights had a lot to do with it.

"We were outplayed, outclassed, outworked. It's not a good ingredient to win a game," he said.

Girardi won an OHL championship last year with the Storm. Yet few people knew what he was about when he came to London. Everyone knows now. He is what hockey people refer to as a warrior. His body is a puck magnet.

In one game, he blocked a shot off the leg and could hardly stand. Before he could get off the ice, he blocked a shot with his hand and then another on almost the same spot on his leg.

Everyone blocked shots last night.

"It has been a tough playoff," Girardi said. "We know the teams have been told to hit our defence and you feel the bumps and bruises. But once the adrenalin gets going, you hardly feel it.

"I don't really mind not being recognized. I'm not a goal scorer. I just get the puck out and keep it nice and simple."

It is going to take something special from the 67's to bring the series back to Ottawa. Winning the OHL title in front of their fans would cap a remarkable season for the Knights, with the Memorial Cup still to come.

"We want to win (tomorrow's) game real bad for our fans," Girardi said. "They'll be inside and outside the building in droves. We want to win that OHL championship for them."

The 67's looked a beaten team last night. The Civic Centre was filled with so much promise four days ago with the series tied 1-1 and the 67's believing they had the Knights on the run. Last night, it was taken over by Knights fans. Each player left the building down a long corridor of green-clad supporters.

It was but a taste of things to come.


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