Will Knights' glory repeat?

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:14 AM ET

Same time next year for the Memorial Cup victory party, right, London?

That statement may draw guffaws from those who know how hard it was for their favourite major junior hockey franchise to win its first Cup.

Returning Knights players aren't laughing.

"It's a bit sad in a way. We were all close on this team. We did everything together and it feels like it's the end of something special," forward David Bolland said Sunday night.

"But we're not going to fall off the map like some people are saying. We're going to have a good team next year. Maybe not like this team -- I think it's the best ever -- but we're still going to be pretty good."

Questions about the Knights start on the second floor of the John Labatt Centre, where team co-owner and general manager Mark Hunter pushes the buttons on personnel, and continue on the first floor in the coaches room, where brother Dale Hunter, another co-owner, plans game strategies as head coach.

All season the Petrolia-raised Hunters have been dogged by rumours they will pull off the ultimate "buy-low, sell-high" scheme by divesting themselves of the team and looking at other hockey interests closer to home.

They have repeatedly said it won't happen.

But Dale Hunter's Cup win couldn't make him any less attractive as a potential NHL head coach. And his old team, the Washington Capitals, may be interested when the big league solves its lockout debacle.

No matter what the Hunters say this summer, no one will be convinced they're staying put until they see Mark back in the team's suite at the JLC and Dale behind the bench in September.

On the ice, the Knights will lose veteran pot-stirrer Brandon Prust and defencemen Dan Girardi and Bryan Rodney to age.

Ten more are in their graduating year, although any three can come back as over-agers --goalies Gerald Coleman and Adam Dennis, forwards Corey Perry, Dan Fritsche, Drew Larman and Kelly Thomson, and defencemen Marc Methot, Frank Rediker, Danny Syvret and Jeff Whitfield.

You can forget about seeing Perry here again. And Methot is simply too solid and steady to play anywhere lower than the American Hockey League next season.

Some pro team will have to jump at the undrafted Knights captain Syvret and offer him a contract, or at least pick him the next time the NHL decides it wants to hold another draft.

If the Knights lose at least half of those graduates, there will be big Bauers to fill.

But the younger players aren't taking their Cup title defence lightly.

"For the young guys to be a part of something like this means everything," says returning Knights forward Jordan Foreman.

"Everybody who was here saw what it takes to win and we will have that feeling with us next year. The reason we won is everyone on the team had their role and accepted it. We have more guys ready to step in and take over those roles."

There is little way the team can replace the production of Perry, although Bolland will be on track for a 100-point season if he is placed with the proper linemates. If Rob Schremp is returned from the Edmonton Oilers for more seasoning, the Knights will have a sure-fire 50-goal scorer.

But just like this year, when underrated players like Prust, Girardi and Dylan Hunter added depth, the Knights will need players like Foreman, Trevor Kell and first-rounder Steven Ferry to fill the gaps left by the departing veterans.

The young guys now know what it feels like to play for a winner. It feels pretty darn good and it's something you want to keep going for as long as possible.


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