Knights willing to play with pain

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

The record books are going to indicate the Memorial Cup champion London Knights waltzed through the 2004-05 season with a stunning 79-9-2 record.

But those cold, hard numbers don't begin to describe the level of pain, punishment and sacrifice most of the Knights endured on the way to becoming one of major junior hockey's greatest teams.

It wasn't easy. The Knights just made it look that way.

Forward Danny Fritsche, the 19-year-old bull who Sarnia Sting fans thought gave up on his team this year, screwed up his surgically repaired shoulder so badly this week, he already knows he's heading for a tough summer of rehabilitation.

Bryan Rodney, a 21-year-old member of the Knights' Big Four blue-line corps, played the entire Memorial Cup and much of the OHL playoffs on a wonky knee.

Fittingly, those two Knights, who had to struggle mightily just to stay in the lineup, scored the team's first two goals in the Cup-winning 4-0 victory over the overmatched Rimouski Oceanic yesterday at the John Labatt Centre.

"I got hit in the Kelowna game and I knew I hurt the shoulder I had surgery on again," said Fritsche, who charged in to knock over Rimouski goalie Cedrick Desjardins in the first period yesterday. "It got so bad and swollen, it didn't look like I'd be able to play in the Ottawa game on Thursday.

"But you take the energy in this building from the crowd and there's no way you're going to miss a game. You play hurt. It felt better the last few days. I know when I get back to Cleveland, I know I'll have to get it fixed up again."

It's the price Fritsche was willing to pay to stay in the lineup and help deliver a title. Rodney, the home-town boy, knows the feeling.

"I tore the MCL in my knee and it was a battle," he said. "I could do normal stuff like walking up stairs, but it did hurt when you're sitting in a chair and you have to stand up. You have to go through two or three hours a day of physiotherapy, which is tough, but you do it to stay in the lineup.

"We had guys who were pretty beat up, but that just shows the character of this team. It's satisfying -- it's my last junior game and you want to be out there on the ice. There's no better way to end it than like this."

The huge welt on Rob Schremp's face from an errant stick paled in comparison to the massive grin he wore after the game.

"A guy like Danny Fritsche, we didn't even know if he would be able to play from day to day," he said. "But that's the kind of stuff you deal with to get to a moment like this. It's not a cakewalk. Anybody who says this was a cakewalk this season doesn't know. It's the sacrifices that make it so sweet."

Schremp sat back, smiled at Fritsche, and lit a celebratory cigar.

In another corner, Corey Perry celebrated. The Knights star played much of yesterday's game with a suspected concussion and had two fresh stitches between his eyes.

"We know what it takes to be champions and those feelings are what you take with you the rest of your career," Schremp said. "This is the best team I've ever played on and I'll probably never play on a team this good again."

He forget to add "toughest," but that was already understood.


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