Knights fans one game from hockey heaven

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:49 AM ET

One more game, only 60 minutes of play to make 40 years of misery disappear.

One game, only 60 minutes to cap one of the greatest seasons in junior hockey history.

The London Knights advanced to the Memorial Cup final last night with a 5-2 win over the Ottawa 67's at the John Labatt Centre. They'll play either the Rimouski Oceanic or the 67's Sunday.

London fans have waited 40 years for this.

With things well in hand late in the game and the final in their grasp, thoughts must have turned to what this franchise has gone through, what fans in this city have lived through over those 40 years.

Could it be the unbelievable three-win season, when this moment seemed as far away as a lunar landing once did?

Maybe thoughts focused on the feelings of the seven-game loss to the Belleville Bulls in 1999 or the loss to Ottawa in 1977, both in the OHL final?

How many flashed back to last year, when the Guelph Storm won Game 7 on the John Labatt Centre ice, stopping a Knights team many believed was destined to go to the Memorial Cup?

So much hope in a city where junior hockey has always been king. And always there was so much disappointment. How many times have the Knights and their fans watched as two other teams took to the ice for a Memorial Cup final?

Not this time.

"It's great to be in the final," said Rob Schremp as he signed autographs among the swarms waiting for the Knights. "We've talked about this all year. But there's one more game left. This is just the round-robin. We'll talk about it Friday and Saturday and focus on one more game."

Does anyone still feel the chill of the London Gardens/ London Ice House in their bones?

As the game headed to a conclusion before a packed John Labatt Centre and what was likely a huge television audience, did anyone remember the years of anonymity when London was simply a place to stop between Windsor and Kitchener, when national publicity and recognition was for someone else?

Anonymity belongs somewhere else now. London is a destination that TV networks and hockey players want to come to. Nothing is certain in hockey, but if ever a season was meant to end in a Memorial Cup final, this was it.

And yet as the horns honked around the JLC last night, most of the Knights were at their businesslike best.

"Not yet, no emotion yet. You don't want to get caught up yet," captain Danny Syvret said. "The emotion will come up Sunday."

The 67's had hoped to be the team that extended the Knights Memorial Cup final drought just a little longer. In a tournament that has produced nothing but close games, no one should have expected otherwise.

There was some doubt after the first period. But no doubt after the second.

They outshot the 67's 22-5, outscored them 3-1 and locked up their place in the final. They scored on the power play, taking advantage of undisciplined 67's penalties.

There were moments when the game turned heated, but with Ottawa needing to score four goals to supplant the Knights in the final, that no longer became a reality. The 67's have a date with Rimouski tomorrow in the semifinal.

As the clock ran down and the win was secured, the atmosphere turned giddy. Fans cheered the Shovel Guy, Andrew Kitt, who emerged during commercial breaks to clean along the boards.

67's coach Brian Kilrea wasn't pleased with his team's performance. "I'd rather be in Dale's boots right now so I wouldn't have to look for Saturday. I could sit there and have (a beer) in the Labatt Centre here. We'll skate tomorrow and hopefully we can find some players who will play better than they did (last night)."

His team will have to play with more emotion and discipline if they want to meet the Knights in the final.

Yes, the London Knights are in the Memorial Cup final.

For London fans, no sweeter words could be spoken.


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