The playoffs: OHL's best

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:32 AM ET

The Knights had to cringe just a little when they drew the Guelph Storm in the first round of the playoffs.

It was the Storm who unceremoniously cancelled the Knights' trip to the 2004 Memorial Cup in Kelowna, B.C., tripping up London in the OHL Western Conference final.

What might become of the Knights after such a remarkable regular season? Would success go to their heads? Would the Storm prove spoilers again?

"These kids aren't dumb," Knights general manager Mark Hunter would say on the eve of the opener.

"They know what it's all about. They know it's a different season and they'll have to raise their level often."

The Knights did raise their level and swept the Storm in four games.

The series was not without controversy. Storm coach and GM Dave Barr drew a 15-game suspension and defenceman Ryan Pottruff 12 games for an incident late in Game 3.

Pottruff came off the bench and delivered a two-handed slash on Corey Perry.

Lineman Kevin Hastings reported to referee Carman Cox that he'd heard Barr say, "Someone go out there and break someone's wrist."

The Knights drew the Windsor Spitfires in the conference semifinals.

In the first round, the Spitfires had come back from a 3-0 deficit to knock off the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

But Windsor had nothing left against the powerful Knights. The Spitfires went out in four straight.

The Knights and Kitchener Rangers hooked up for the conference championship. It was a reuniting for Canadian world junior teammates Corey Perry and Danny Syvret of the Knights and Michael Richards of the Rangers.

But it was the coaches, namely the Knights' Dale Hunter, who stole the show in the early going.

Hunter claimed the Rangers were hacking and whacking.

"It's an embarrassment to the league," he said. "Kids are getting hurt because of this. It's bad for the league . . . if I was a skilled guy coming into this league, I'd be a little iffy-iffy."

Rangers' coach Peter DeBoer countered: "It's tough enough beating the London Knights, the No. 1-ranked team in the country, without having to beat the refereeing, too."

OHL commissioner David Branch had to step in twice, issuing fines and suspensions.

"All it is intended to do is move the spotlight away from what's happening on the ice," Branch said. "It has become a sideshow and is not serving the league or the individuals involved any purpose."

The players eventually got back to playing hockey, the coaches toned it down and the Knights won the series in five games, setting up the championship series with the Ottawa 67's.

The only other time London and Ottawa met in the final was in 1977, with the 67's winning in six games.

The second time the Knights advanced to the championship series was in 1999, losing to the Belleville Bulls in seven games.

One thing was certain -- both teams were headed to the Memorial Cup. One as the OHL champions, the other as the OHL representative.

The Knights wanted no part of the latter. After all, they'd said from the beginning they wanted to go to the Memorial Cup through the front door. Here was their opportunity.

One the eve of the championship clincher at the John Labatt Centre, captain Danny Syvret said celebrating with a Game 5 win at home would be sweet justice for all.

"We owe it to our fans for the support they have given us and the way they treat us in the city. They treat us like professionals," Syvret said.

"To give them a championship, I don't think it can get any better, and maybe two weeks from now we'll be able to give them another championship."

The Knights made one giant step as the clock struck 9:18 p.m. on May 14, celebrating an OHL championship.

"When you say you want to win it, you definitely better mean it," said Knights forward Dylan Hunter.

The 40-year wait was over.


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