Knights capture OHL championship

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 11:01 AM ET

The 40-year journey ended just as the John Labatt Centre clock struck 9:18 last night.

The London Knights can finally say those long-awaited four words -- Ontario Hockey League champions.

The Knights beat the Ottawa 67's 6-2 to win the best-of-seven championship series in five games.

Commissioner David Branch presented the J. Ross Robertson Cup to captain Danny Syvret to a thunderous roar, a trophy first presented in 1934 but until now escaping London's grasp.

The Knights become the 21st different team to hoist it.

The Knights have known for a year they'd be in this year's Memorial Cup as host team, but they said from the first day of training camp they wanted to win the OHL crown and go through the front door.

"When you say you want to win it, you definitely better mean it," said Knights forward Dylan Hunter, choking on a victory stogie.

Hunter said he got shivers on the bench as the clock ticked down and the singing and a standing ovation began.

"It was unbelievable, it was 40 years of celebration all at once," he said. "When the fans were singing 'Goodbye' with five minutes left, I just got chills on the bench. Me and Schrempie (Rob Schremp) just looked at each other and said 'Can you believe this?' It was surreal."

The Knights' Corey Perry, already a gold-medal winner at the world junior championship, the league scoring champion and the league's most outstanding player, received the Wayne Gretzky 99 Trophy as playoff MVP.

He led all Canadian Hockey League playoff scoring with 38 points, including 11 goals, in 18 games.

"This is something special, something I will remember the rest of my life," he said of the team's achievement.

"But we're not done. We need four more wins (in the Memorial Cup) and we'll be all set."

Perry said the fans made the night and another sellout of 9,090 at the JLC helped set an OHL championship series attendance record of 46,994.

"You just look outside and 9,100 people haven't left the arena, they're still all out there cheering and that hits home," Perry said.

A CHL-record 31-game unbeaten streak to begin, then an all-out assault on the CHL and OHL record books have dotted a season to remember.

But Perry said winning the OHL was important.

"We were (ranked) No. 1 all year and this just proves to everybody what we can do when people put pressure on," he said.

"They expected us to win the OHL championship and we went out and did it. Right from Day 1 of training camp we wanted to go to the Memorial Cup through the front door."

They smashed that door down, losing only nine of 86 games all season.

"We proved to people we were the real deal," said defenceman Marc Methot.

Knights forward Rob Schremp, who had a four-point night to finish second in playoff scoring with 29, said the pressure was welcomed. "We talked about it all season and we finally got it done," he said. "It's not pressure, it's just setting goals."

The Knights open the Memorial Cup in a marquee matchup, playing Sidney Crosby and the Quebec champion Rimouski Oceanic on Saturday at 7 p.m.

"We'll celebrate (last night and tonight), then shut her down and get ready for the real thing," Schremp said.

Methot is excited to draw Crosby and the Oceanic in the Cup opener.

"We're actually glad he's in the Memorial Cup. All that hype about them chirping our (31-game unbeaten streak) doesn't really make us happy and we'll have to prove them wrong and show we're the better team," Methot said after the Oceanic claimed their 35-game unbeaten streak, which spanned 28 regular-season and seven playoff games, should be recognized by the CHL.

The 67's are also in the Memorial Cup and are joined by the defending champion Kelowna Rockets, who beat Brandon in the Western league final.

The Knights needed only 18 games to complete their task; sweeping Guelph and Windsor, then taking Kitchener in five in the Western Conference final.

When coach Dale Hunter and his brother Mark, the GM, bought the Knights in May 2000, they promised to deliver a championship to this city.

"It's definitely rewarding. You plant the seeds and you end up with a good crop and then a good harvest -- you win," said Dale Hunter. "The kids did it and you got to give them a whole lot of credit. It's hard to win."

GAME GLANCE

Knights 6, 67's 2

The series: London beat Ottawa 4-1 in the best-of-seven OHL championship series.

London goals: Bryan Rodney (2), Josh Beaulieu, David Bolland, Dan Fritsche, Rob Schremp

Ottawa goals: Bryan Bickell, Mark Mancari


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