Opening matchup lives up to hype

JIM KERNAGHAN, Free Press Sports Columnist

, Last Updated: 5:01 AM ET

The House of Green got a little closer to golden last night when the London Knights defeated the Rimouski Oceanic 4-3 in overtime in the red-hot opening game of the Memorial Cup tournament at the John Labatt Centre.

The joint was jumping and so was Knights captain Danny Syvret half an hour afterward.

"I still have goose-bumps," he said. "When Marc (Methot) scored, I don't know how high I jumped but I wish NHL testing could have seen it," the undrafted leader said.

As exciting as the game was for the fans, it was the same for the players. Corey Perry, who scored the tying goal in London's comeback from a 3-1 deficit, said the throbbing of the arena could be felt in the locker room.

From saloons to salons around town, conversations surrounded the pivotal opening game between the Knights and the Oceanic. They pretty well boiled down to the most overriding strategy of the tournament: Could Sidney be stopped?

That would be Crosby, who is as deft with his hockey stick as Bing ever was with his musical schtick and has riffs as engaging.

He was, of course, accorded the welcome of superstars from Orr and Gretzky to Lemieux -- well-modulated boos in behind the cheers. It is the sort of background music with which the 17-year-old, whose career opening strike was a $2.5 million endorsement deal with Reebok, is familiar.

He was held to a goal and an assist and an admonishment from Perry, who warned him "there'd be no slashing here" after the youngster nailed Bryan Rodney.

Almost as entertaining, for those who watch coaching hijinks, was Rimouski coach Doris Labonte, whose range of emotions went from ecstasy to utter desolation, depending on what neat move his team made or what level of egregious foul he deemed the Knights to have made with impunity.

Shrieking, looking heavenward for divine answers, imploring, raging, this guy has to be the most expressive and excitable coach here. Or maybe anywhere. His dejection was palpable when Methot scored his second goal of the game to finish it.

He was generous in defeat by saying the Knights deserved it.

There scarcely could have been more drama in a junior hockey game.

It would be Corey Perry who brought the Knights back from the edge, scoring the tying goal early in the third period to set up a breath-taking overtime.

So often, games such as this fail to live up to their billing. This one did, in spades.


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