Knights stay calm before biggest game

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 2:00 PM ET

The London Knights have had two days to think about the biggest game in their history.

Today, the Knights will take to the John Labatt Centre ice in quest of their first Memorial Cup championship, a title a city and junior hockey experts expect them to win.

It's been two days since a win over the Ottawa 67's put them in this position. Since then they have watched, listened and read about the expectations, about their talent and yes, about their seeming invincibility.

The Knights recognize no one is invincible. But such is the nature of the favourite's role. With the accolades comes the pressure.

All the dissecting indicated the Knights are the most talented team in this tournament. How they'll respond to a unique game situation will determine whether they will beat Rimouski today.

This team has been under the microscope all year. It has faced the intense scrutiny of a 31-game undefeated streak at the start of the season, a playoff run in which it had to overcome injuries and aggressive play, and the constant attention of media and fans.

So how do handle this enormous pressure?

On the morning of what will be the last practice together for many of these players, it was life as usual. No sign of nerves, tension or exhaustion.

As coach Dale Hunter and assistant Jeff Perry left the ice at the end of the session, a group of players grabbed assistant coach Jacques Beaulieu and taped him to the point where he couldn't move. After the tape job, he was carried to the net, placed on top of it and taped to that. Trainer Don Brankley cut him loose.

The howls of laughter could be heard all over the Western Fair Sports Centre.

The atmosphere did not equate with the fact most of the players were a little more than 24 hours away from participating in the game of their young hockey lives.

"We're calm and very composed. We cope well with pressure," said captain Danny Syvret. "We're very level headed. We could be a group that's very arrogant judging by our record and what we've been through but we're very down to earth."

Part of the ice-water-in-the-veins routine comes from coach Dale Hunter. In his 19 years in the National Hockey League, he played in a lot of big games.

"When you're under pressure, it helps you. This is where you want to be," he said. "There's no panic. You just go out and do your job. We've learned from every experience we had this year. The kids are going to learn from this (today), for their futures and their careers."

Everything aside, the players sense know how close they are to a championship.

"We have 60 minutes to be No. 1 in the (Canadian Hockey League)," said Syvret. "Everyone talked about us being the No. 1 team all year. We had to play like we were No. 1. We had to play like we never wanted to lose. Now we have 60 minutes to prove to everyone we should be No. 1.

In a year of wonderful stories and accomplishment, is there another magical chapter to be written? Maybe it will be about hard-luck London native Rob Drummond, who has played well in the Memorial Cup tournament but he hasn't been able to score.

"I haven't had much success in the playoffs and Memorial Cup," he said. "I would like to get my name on the board, but all that matters is that the team wins.

"But my dream come true would be scoring the winning goal, in overtime during the game. Any kind of goal would work for me."

And for the rest of London.


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