The season: Record smashers

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:31 AM ET

There's nothing like putting the pressure square on your own shoulders. And there's nothing like living up to it.

The London Knights can take considerable satisfaction after crafting one of the greatest regular seasons not only in the Ontario Hockey League, but also in Canadian Hockey League history.

It was at training camp that the Knights were saying they would settle for nothing less than an OHL championship -- which would be the first in the 40-year history of this franchise and would see them go in the "front door" to the Memorial Cup.

They were already in as the host team, but they didn't want an asterisk beside their name if they won.

"We want to go in the front door (as OHL champions)," star Corey Perry said on Aug. 31 as they opened training camp at the John Labatt Centre.

"We don't want to be done halfway through March or April, waiting for the tournament to start (May 21). That's the big fear we have right now.

"We have to make sure everybody does their job."

And they did their jobs, rewriting the OHL and CHL record books 22 times along the way.

The Knights grabbed the national spotlight with their record-setting 31-game unbeaten streak to begin the season.

The 1978-79 Brandon Wheat Kings had gone 29 games without a loss. Their mark stood the test of time and some pretty good major junior teams.

The Knight equalled it with a 5-3 win in Kitchener on Dec. 8, then, two nights later, no longer had to share.

A 0-0 tie with the Guelph Storm at the JLC sent the Knights to their 30th consecutive game without a loss, pushing aside the '78-79 Wheat Kings.

But nobody would have thought it would come in this form. There had been just three other 0-0 games in OHL history -- Sudbury at North Bay, Nov. 25, 1984; Kingston at Ottawa, Feb. 26, 1994; and Oshawa at Peterborough, Feb. 25, 1999.

Knights goalie Gerald Coleman made 23 saves. Guelph's Adam Dennis -- who would later join the Knights in a Jan. 10 trade -- made 48 saves.

Coleman's stick was off to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.

"I hope people are taking notice because we are going to go in right through the front door," Knights forward Dylan Hunter told a packed post-game news conference attended by journalists from all over the country.

The Knights would go on to make it 31 games without a loss before the Sudbury Wolves would play spoilers Dec. 17 at the JLC.

Perry and Danny Syvret weren't in the lineup. They were with the Canadian junior team preparing for the world championship.

Those two Knights would play an important role in Canada reclaiming its position atop the junior hockey kingdom, winning the gold medal for the first time in eight years.

Perry shone on a line with 17-year-old wonder kid Sidney Crosby, of the Rimouski Oceanic, and Patrice Bergeron, who was on loan from the Boston Bruins organization.

Syvret was outstanding on the Canadian blue-line and even scored the winning goal in the championship game against Russia.

Another stick for the Hall of Fame with a London Knights name on it.

The Knights continued to roll in the new year, and, on Jan. 21, they defeated the Kingston Frontenacs 5-0 in Kingston to clinch a playoff spot.

The OHL and CHL don't keep the statistic but it's believed it's the quickest a team locked up a playoff spot.

The records continued to fall, but the Knights weren't preoccupied with taking their place in history. Their eyes were firmly set on the big prize, the OHL championship and the Memorial Cup.

"For the most part, we're not really looking at the records and saying, 'Oh, we got to win this and we got to win that,' we're just trying to motivate ourselves for every game," captain Danny Syvret said.

"I think we're going in and trying to improve every game and trying to stay positive and if records fall, they fall. But if not, it's not a big deal."

The Knights clinched first place overall on Feb. 24, beating the Windsor Spitfires 7-3 in Windsor to capture the Hamilton Spectator Trophy for the second straight season.

The Knights, 51-5-2-0 at the time, became the first team in league history to register back-to-back 50-win and 100-point seasons.

This season was also an opportunity for such personal milestones as Corey Perry becoming the team's all-time points leader.

He won the OHL scoring title with 130 points to finish his career with 380 over four seasons.

Chris Taylor had 378, playing with London from 1988-89 through 1991-92.

Perry recalled playing with Rick Nash and Charlie Stephens his first year.

"There's guys like that that brought me along and taught me so much. There's all kinds of guys that taught me so much about the game."

Perry went on to become only the third Knight to win the scoring crown. Dave Simpson won in 1981-82 and Jason Allison in 1993-94.

"It's nice to get it over and done with and move on now. What's next right now is the OHL championship," Perry said in mid-March.

"That's what we've got on our minds and after that it's the Memorial Cup. We're just taking it one step at a time."

That first step was taken at training camp. Many giant steps later, the Knights put their stamp on a remarkable regular season.

The Knights posted a 59-7-2-0 regular-season record, losing only once on home ice.

"To get over 50 wins two years in a row and to finish first overall two years in a row, it's been a lot of fun,' said Knights general manager Mark Hunter.

"You always set goals, but to lose seven games all year is an amazing feat. For the players to play that hard every night, that team has a lot of character. You respect what they've done."

The Knights gained a lot of respect from all over the country for what they achieved during the regular season.

But now it was time for them to step it up another notch -- the playoffs.


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