Every game a must-win

Trevor Kell lands on the ice as he and Marc Methot get tangled up in front of the net during the...

Trevor Kell lands on the ice as he and Marc Methot get tangled up in front of the net during the London Knights practice yesterday at the John Labatt Centre. (London Free Press/Sue Reeve)

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:14 AM ET

The urgency has hit home with the London Knights.

They know from here on that they are basically in what amounts to a one-game elimination.

There's no room for error, no room for a loss.

"We've got to come to the rink every night and play our hearts out," forward David Bolland said yesterday.

"We can't just dipsy-doodle and think it's a seven-game series. You've got to come out that one game and give it all."

That starts with Saturday night's Memorial Cup tournament opener for the Knights against the Rimouski Oceanic and superstar Sidney Crosby.

The Knights know their 31-game unbeaten streak, their record-breaking season and their first OHL championship in 40 years will mean little to the Quebec league champions when the puck drops at 7 p.m.

It will be the same on Monday when the Knights play the Western league champion and defending Memorial Cup champion Kelowna Rockets, then again next Thursday, as the Knights complete the round-robin against the Ottawa 67's.

A first-place finish in the round-robin gives that team a bye to the final on May 29.

The team that's received the bye the last four years has won the Memorial Cup -- Kelowna last year, Kitchener in 2003, Kootenay in 2002 and Red Deer in 2001.

Taking it even further, 11 of the past 12 champions have earned the bye, avoiding the Saturday semifinal and possibly the Friday tie-breaker.

"You have to win every game -- four wins, we win the Memorial Cup," said forward Corey Perry, who has led playoff scoring across the Canadian Hockey League.

Captain Danny Syvret said the Knights have already experience one form or another of this one-game concept.

"Corey Perry and I went through it at the world juniors and we had a bit of it during the streak," Syvret said.

"Everyone had us in the spotlight from the 22-game mark on and we sort of played every game like it was our last. So I think we have some experience."

Coach Dale Hunter, in an obvious attempt to keep things light, had some fun with the idea.

"It's like a kids' tournament again," he said, smiling.

"(But) you do have to approach it as a one-game thing and prepare your kids the best you can. It's one of those things where there's not too much room for error, so you have to come up with the big game every night."

From a coaching standpoint, it's not like a seven-game series where the teams can use the first couple of periods of Game 1 as a feeling out process. There's no waiting for Game 2 or 3 to get your act together.

"You have to execute and it will be the team that executes right away," Hunter said. "It's execution more than anything."

Forward Rob Schremp said the players have refocused.

"We've put last weekend past us," he said of the thrill of winning the OHL championship on Saturday night.

"We know our execution has to be perfect."

With the NHL lockout and no Stanley Cup finals at this time of the year, there will be a crush of media at the tournament. A record number 250 has been accredited. Usually it's around 150.

This will be nothing new for Crosby, as the 17-year-old has been under the spotlight all season, and the Knights know what it's about as things got a little crazy around the John Labatt Centre as they closed in on the CHL unbeaten streak.

Perry and Syvret also experienced it at the world juniors in Grand Forks, N.D., where the Canadian media made it look as if the tournament was being played in this country.

The Knights actually are welcoming this additional attention.

"It will give us a chance to show the whole country what we've done the whole year," Schremp said.

Hunter said he's not concerned that the players' minds might wander with all the peripheral activities that go with the Memorial Cup.

"The leaders in the dressing room are good that way," he said.

Hunter, who spent 19 years playing in the NHL and in some big games, said every player looks forward to a game like Saturday's opener, which is being hyped by some as a preview of the championship game.

"It's the big game and as a player that's what you want to do is play in the big game," Hunter said.


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