Battochio buckles under Knights' blitz

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:47 AM ET

For a time, the Ottawa 67's had a chance to beat the London Knights last night.

Then, as Memorial Cup tournament officials insist, the referee dropped the puck to start the game and reality intruded for everyone, especially Ottawa goaltender Danny Battochio.

There were murmurs before the game that the Ottawa goaltender possessed an element of parity, that if he came up with something close to earlier stunning performances, the 67's had a shot and that he might frazzle the form chart.

Reality intruded five goals to two and the Ottawans now have to play Rimouski Oceanic tomorrow night for the right to face London in the championship Sunday.

As well as being snipers, the Knights are among the best at harassing a goalie, he said.

"They run you and aren't shy to do it," he said. "I've seen a lot of them this year. They like to get the stick between your legs. It's not noticeable. It makes it hard to move side to side."

Battochio is one of those athletes even the most devoted Knights fan would have to root for. Come to think of it, they might have been rooting for him every game had history unfolded a bit differently.

He was in the Knights camp when Chris Houle and Gerald Coleman were the 'keepers of record. It was mainly a look-see.

He returned to his Tier 2 Sudbury team and that seemed to be the end of it. But he began to shine and both the 67's and the Sudbury Wolves took interest.

The scare the 67's got this week at training, when the smallish goalie took a shot off his left collarbone, was nothing compared to what happened to him on Christmas Eve 2003.

Not long after retiring for the night, Battochio woke up on his bedroom floor with his parents and brother looking down at him with deep concern. He'd had a seizure as a result of a congenital artery problem behind his left eye.

The result was an eight-hour surgical procedure and his season was over.

His first game of last season was in Sudbury, his home town, and witnesses say his performance was the kind that he put up during a spectacular 62-save, double-overtime victory over Kelowna last Sunday. Going into last night's game, the 5-foot-10, 175-pounder had the tournament's best save percentage, .942, and his 2.32 goals-against per game was just behind the Knights' Adam Dennis.

The Knights changed all that with a 49-shot blitz that at times had Battochio standing on his head. Not in the sense of standing on his head to make incredible saves, but standing on his head as part of a gymnastics exercise created by the Knights in concert with Battochio's occasionally lax defenders.

Plenty of goaltenders would have been fricasseed by the firepower.

If there was any reason to suspect the Knights, winner six of the seven times these teams have met during the season and playoffs, might somehow fall to the gritty 67's, it was dispelled during the second period.

It was a rolling 20-minute shooting gallery during which the Knights buzzed, banged and bombarded the Ottawa goal with a performance that, if matched in the final, will go a long way toward the home team parading the Memorial Cup around the softening ice of the John Labatt Centre.

While his mates were managing a modest five shots on Gerald Coleman at the other end, Battochio was facing 22 in a wind tunnel of activity, three of them for goals. It could have been worse.

Brandon Prust had one called back for dry-gulching an Ottawa player just before potting it, the second voided London score of the night. David Bolland slapped one out of the air in the first period that appeared valid to everyone but the tape review folks.

Maybe the fates do that for guys like Battochio.

For all his efforts, not much else came his way last night except an awful lot of pucks.


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