Knights depart to cheers from fans

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:13 AM ET

The London Knights players gathered for one last time publicly last night.

The moment didn't escape Corey Perry.

"Friendships last forever in junior hockey and we're always going to stay close," Perry told the estimated 5,000 fans who gathered along Talbot Street and the adjacent Covent Garden Market square for the Memorial Cup parade and rally.

Police estimated another 15,000 people lined the parade route.

It was an opportunity for the fans to thank their Knights for this city's first Memorial Cup championship in the team's 40-year history, along with their 79-9-2 record-smashing season.

It was also a chance for the Knights to thank their fans.

"We'll never pass up an opportunity to come back here," said Perry, from Peterborough, a first-round draft pick of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks.

Brandon Prust, a Londoner, made the Knights as a walk-on. He was a big fan as a youngster, taking in games with his dad at the old London Gardens, later called the Ice House.

"This is unbelievable," Prust told the crowd. "I went golfing today and they said we'd have a little parade tonight. But we come here and this is just chaos."

Captain Danny Syvret, Bryan Rodney, Marc Methot and Dan Girardi carried the Memorial Cup onto the stage to thunderous cheers.

A spontaneous chant of "Go Knights go" broke out.

"It's a pretty heavy trophy, but once it gets up there, it's pretty light," Syvret said of hoisting the Cup.

Co-owner and general manager Mark Hunter was beaming from ear to ear. He and his brother, Dale, the head coach, had promised an OHL championship and a Memorial Cup championship when they bought the Knights in May 2000.

They delivered five years later.

"One word keeps coming out to me," Mark Hunter told the crowd. "I really believe it's a special team that will be hard to replace.

"It's what we really wanted to really have, the Memorial Cup. What makes it special, and special to me, is the special fans.

"You just kept turning out and it's one reason they kept winning."

Girardi and Methot were using their video cellphones to capture the moment.

"It's crazy," said forward Rob Schremp, who became a real crowd favourite during his time here.

"Thanks for celebrating with us. It's been a great couple days. I don't remember much of it but this is the best team I ever played on."

Dale Hunter, not one to usually speak in public, took the microphone at the urging of the crowd as fans chanted "We want Dale, we want Dale."

"It's an easy bunch of kids to coach," he said. "I just opened the door and they went out and did it. I think they're going to go down as the greatest team ever in junior."


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