Simply the best

JON COOK -- SLAM! Sports

, Last Updated: 2:29 PM ET

LONDON -- It will go down as the triumph of the team over the individual.

On Sunday before a packed John Labatt Centre, the host London Knights completed a historic season with a 4-0 victory over Sidney Crosby and the Rimouski Oceanic, to claim their first national junior title.

The shutout capped the Knights' miraculous 79-9-2 season, that included a Canadian Hockey League record 31-game unbeaten streak, a 16-2 OHL playoff run and a perfect 4-0 mark at the Memorial Cup.

"The record books will show it, all of you here know it: the London Knights are one of the best teams to ever play for this trophy," encapsulated CHL President David Branch, as he presented the championship hardware to captain Danny Syvret.

"To raise (the Memorial Cup) gave me instant goosebumps. I don't know how big my eyes were, but it was a great feeling and I don't think anything can ever top that," said Syvret, who logged a ton of minutes and was a standout on the penalty kill for the Knights. "Being undrafted and making world juniors, having the streak we did here in London and the playoffs and to end it being Memorial Cup champions, I don't think there's a better way to end it."

This one was hyped as a battle between Crosby - the best player in Canadian junior hockey - and the country's best team. It offered to supply a definitive answer to the great sports debate: can a great player beat a great team?

On this night the answer was not even close.

The Knights refused to let the best-ever season in CHL history go to waste, by outskating, outhustling and outworking their opponent and taking advantage of a clearly tired and emotionally overwhelmed Rimouski squad. It was the same formula head coach Dale Hunter's crew had applied throughout their previous 89 games this season.

Hunter, a master at gamesmanship during his two decades in the NHL, had infuriated the Oceanic by running both Crosby and goaltender Cedrick Desjardins during their round-robin match a week ago and had further tried to "psych out" Rimouski yesterday by having Desjardins' skates declared illegal.

The skates were fine, but Hunter's move clearly rankled the Oceanic who were also battling the physical exhaustion of having to play two high-calibre games in an 18-hour span.

"We missed some juice. We put a lot of energy against Ottawa and that's hard playing back-to-back games like that," said Oceanic forward Danny Roussin, who whose line with Crosby and Marc-Antoine Pouliot racked up 29 points in their four previous games. "It's not an excuse. They're a good team, but I'd give everything to have another day (of rest) against them."

Two and a half minutes into the game the Oceanic imploded, as Corey Perry's innocuous extra whack at a puck under Desjardins' glove caused a tumult. Perry quickly became the target of Eric Neilson's suckerpunch that, along with Jean-Sebastien Cote's crosscheck, led to a key five-on-three power play.

Danny Fritsche got revenge for his teammate on the two-man advantage, snapping the puck between Desjardins pads 3:45 into the game.

Bryan Rodney put the Knights up by a pair by blasting Robbie Schremp's rebound by a prone Desjardins with three minutes left in the first.

With the Oceanic keying on Perry's line, the combo of Schremp and Fritchse had their best games of the tournament. Fritsche had three points and Schremp scored his first since the OHL final against Ottawa and had a half dozen good scoring chances, including two posts.

"I've had a lot of chances throughout the tournament that I should have buried," admitted Schremp, who celebrated afterwards in the dressing room wearing just his jock strap, while simultaneously smoking a cigar and drinking a beer. "I found another way to contribute to the team to open up some chances for guys like Corey, Danny (Syvret) and Dylan (Hunter)."

Except for a couple power plays, Rimouski's vaunted offence was virtually nonexistent. Crosby and crew threw just 25 shots on goaltender Adam Dennis, few that were threatening.

Dennis became just the second netminder to record a shutout in the Memorial Cup final and was rewarded with the Hap Emms Trophy as the top stopper at the tournament.

Crosby, who had a five-point game in the Oceanic's 7-4 semi-final win against Ottawa the night before, was unable to add to his tournament point total, but still won the Ed Chynoweth Trophy as the tournament's leading scorer with 11 points in five games.

"It's a team effort and the five-man unit (Brandon Prust, Trevor Kell, Hunter, Dan Girardi and Marc Methot) did a hell of a job," said Hunter, who applied the same system he used as a Washington Capital to shut down NHL Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux.

Crosby failed to duplicate the feats of former Rimouski star Brad Richards, who won a CHL scoring title, QMJHL title, QMJHL playoff MVP, Memorial Cup MVP and Memorial Cup title in the same season.

The Cole Harbour, NS native was frustrated by the tight-checking of Prust, who drew a penalty from the Oceanic star when he was hauled down on a mini break.

The Oceanic began the final 20 minutes of their own remarkable season, that included a QMJHL-record 28-game unbeaten streak (it was actually 35 when you include their 7-0 start to the playoffs), on the power play but failed to muster anything.

"They did a good job," said Crosby, who came up just short of junior hockey's ultimate prize. "We had some pretty good chances to start the third that we didn't put in. There's a lot of what ifs, but they played a better hockey game."

Special teams proved the difference in the game, as the Knights scored twice on the power play and killed off four Oceanic advantages.

After Schremp's goal, Desjardins was replaced by little-used veteran Jean-Michel Filiatrault with just over 12 minutes left in the game. Filiatrault, picked up at the QMJHL trade deadline, hadn't graced the Rimouski net since February.

Desjardins, who faced 34 shots, was virtually abandoned by his defence after the first period and was forced to make numerous tough saves to hold his team in the game. The New Brunswick native led all goaltenders with a .923 save percentage, stopping at least 40 shots in three of his five games.

As the final 90 seconds ticked off the scoreboard, the appreciative London fans gave the Knights a standing ovation. These were the same fans that had endured an embarrassing 3-60-3 season in 1995-96. But that was before Hunter and his brother Mark purchased the team a few years ago and turned them into champions.

"I played 19 years and I never won a Stanley Cup," admitted Hunter, holding back tears. "I had a lot of disappointing nights after I got beat out in the Stanley Cup playoffs. I never got to celebrate on the ice, so for me it's very special."

When the final buzzer sounded, fireworks erupted and the ice was littered with green, white and black confetti, as Dennis was mobbed by his Knights' teammates.

Perry, who had an assist in the final, was named the tournament MVP with seven points in four games.

"There was a lot of pressure on us, especially after the start we had to the season and we never looked back," said Perry, who will play for the Anaheim Mighty Ducks' AHL affiliate next season. "We just wanted to show everybody that we could play."


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