Knights sought title from Day 1

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:14 AM ET

Talent and teamwork are the building blocks of Memorial Cup championship teams.

But it doesn't hurt to have players sporting a relentless desire to win and a burning hunger to prove naysayers wrong.

The 2004-05 London Knights were full of people like that -- from star forward Corey Perry, overshadowed by national junior team linemate Sidney Crosby all season, to championship-challenged head coach Dale Hunter, whose long tenure in the NHL never amounted to a Stanley Cup win.

"He deserves it," Dale's father Dick, the well-known Hunter patriarch, grinned after the Knights' 4-0 Memorial Cup victory over Rimouski.

"He worked hard for 19 years and never won a Stanley Cup. Now he has this. The boys did a great job. I've never seen a better junior hockey team. I was sitting with Paul Coffey and he said he has never seen a junior team pass the puck as well as the London Knights."

Dale's 20-year-old son Dylan, one of those fine passers, took the long route to OHL respectability. Early in his career, he was often the target of player and fan comments that he was only on the team because his father owned it.

He worked hard to overcome those taunts and played a key role in London's win.

"The fans have been waiting for 40 years for this, and some of us have been waiting four years," Dylan Hunter said after the Cup win.

"I remember back when we didn't have a very good team and we had to struggle and fight for every win. But we got better each year. Then last year was a setback, but this year we've been playing playoff hockey since the start of the season. We wanted this right from Day 1."

Linemate Brandon Prust, the 21-year-old Londoner who has played with Hunter since their junior B days with the London Nationals, was originally cut from the Knights but vowed to return.

He returned for good in September 2002, has played every game like he had something to prove, and now everybody believes in him.

Rob Schremp was the first pick for Mississauga in the 2002 draft but his reputation took a beating after he requested a trade from the IceDogs. He was benched in last year's Western Conference final and almost fell out of the first round in the NHL draft. Not many had more to prove than him.

"I went through a tough time but I got traded to London and this is where everyone wants to be," he said. "I got benched last year but it was for my own good and I learned from it and became a better player."

The list goes on. Knights captain Danny Syvret, passed over by every NHL team in the draft, went out this season and won a world junior gold medal, the Memorial Cup and was named top defenceman in the Canadian Hockey League.

Goaltender Adam Dennis and defenceman Dan Girardi were with the Guelph Storm team that finished 0-3 at last year's Memorial Cup in Kelowna. When they were traded to London this year, they weren't going to waste their second shot.

"This feeling now and the one we had when we were going home on the plane last year are totally different," Girardi said.

"It's like night and day. Everyone knows Guelph didn't have a good Memorial Cup last year and we were just lucky to get another chance."

Goalie Gerald Coleman has fought for playing time ever since joining the Knights -- first with Chris Houle, then Ryan MacDonald, then Dennis. His numbers this year speak for themselves: 32-2-2 in the regular season, 7-1 in the playoffs and 1-0 in the Cup.

Danny Fritsche was criticized for giving up on the Sarnia Sting this year. Defenceman Bryan Rodney was thought to be done in Kingston. Both battled through injuries this year and played with heart and courage.

Tough guy Kelly Thomson, a little-known entity playing junior B in Sault Ste. Marie, had to fight for a spot on the Knights roster. So did Josh Beaulieu.

Trevor Kell, Robbie Drummond and Jordan Foreman were called too small and had to battle to show they belonged in the OHL.

David Bolland was cut from Canada's world junior team.

"This makes up for being let go, for sure," he said.

"But when I came back, I didn't worry about it. I knew this would be the most important thing I could do -- to help this team win the Cup."

It's the feeling that while talent and teamwork are great, sometimes you need a little bit more churning inside to get the job done right.


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