Ex-Knights bursting with pride

JOHN HERBERT -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:25 AM ET

No matter where they were when the London Knights won the Ontario Hockey League championship for the first time in 40 years, ex-team members felt a great sense of pride.

Pat Riggin was at the races at Western Fair. His older brother, Larry Riggin, was at his daughter's ballet recital. Billy Carroll was at his son's hockey game in Guelph. Gordie Brooks watched it on TV with his grandson. Barry Heard and his wife were at the John Labatt Centre watching from the standing-room area with tickets bought for $120 from a scalper.

Many of the alumni were in London yesterday for the team's annual golf tournament at Forest City National. Others on hand included NHLer Jason Allison -- who heard about the Knights' win in a voice message from trainer Don Brankley -- Walt McKechnie, Vern Stenlund, Dennis Wideman, Reg Thomas and coach Paul McIntosh.

Many hope to be back for the Memorial Cup.

Goalie Pat Riggin went on to an excellent career in the NHL after playing for Bill Long's Knights in the late 1970s. Today he works at Forest City National cutting the fairway; in winter, he trains horses.

Although past Knights teams never felt the pressure and thrill of a Memorial Cup, Riggin was there. He was a pickup by the Ottawa 67's for the 1977 tournament.

"I'm very optimistic" said Riggin, who will drop the ceremonial puck at Sunday's game between Ottawa and Kelowna.

"On the other hand, I'm cautious. I've been to the Memorial Cup and I want to be fair to the kids. The team out West makes me nervous. Two of them (Rimouski and Kelowna) won 16 games to get here. Ottawa's going to be tough.

"This city is on pins and needles for it to happen."

Wherever they were Saturday, the former Knights were pulling for their team to defeat the Ottawa 67's.

Brooks, who played with the Knights in 1968-69 on a team that included Darryl Sittler, couldn't sit still. "When they fell behind, I went for a walk and started pacing around," he said. "My grandson wondered what I was doing."

Don Martin, who coached a team in the United States League in Richmond, Va., listened on the Internet. "It was an unbelievable feeling," he said. "It's unbelievable for London, for the people who have supported the team all these years."

London-born McKechnie, a member of the original London team 40 years ago when it was called the Nationals, kept tabs from his restaurant called McKeck's Place, in Haliburton.

"I feel great for the franchise," said McKechnie, who played more than 1,000 NHL games. "It's great for the city to be rewarded after all these years."

"I'm just tickled pink for the team and the city," said Stenlund, the hockey coach at the University of Windsor.

Carroll played on four Stanley Cup teams with the New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers after leaving the Knights. He said having experienced Stanley Cup-winning nights, he could imagine what it was like to be in the John Labatt Centre when the Knights won.

"Anybody who played here has to be following them," said Carroll, who lives in Ajax and owns a business building sunrooms. "Knowing the talent they have, they're almost like a pro hockey team."

When it comes to memories nobody has one sweeter than Dan Eastman.

Now a firefighter in Markham, the 48-year-old Eastman scored the most famous goal in Knights' history in 1977 -- the winner against St. Catharines Fincups to decide the eighth game in their series. Unfortunately, the Knights lost the league final to Ottawa.

"I know the feeling I had and the team had," Eastman said. "Now it's time for them to roll up the sleeves and finish the job."

London opens the Memorial Cup on Saturday against Rimouski.


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