Rules may help rebuilding Knights

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London

, Last Updated: 5:22 PM ET

It's a brave new game and the London Knights began to see exactly where they fit in.

The Knights and Sarnia Sting opened their Ontario Hockey League exhibition season last night at the John Labatt Centre with the Knights coming out 9-3 winners.

It was only an exhibition game and one dominated by power plays at that. But it was the first game of a rebuilding year for the Knights and it was the first game in a new hockey world with rules that are supposed to make the game quicker, more entertaining and higher scoring.

The Knights rebuilding and the new rules are intertwined. The Knights had the type of team last year that would have thrived under the new rules. Now many of those offensively gifted players have moved on.

"This year there's a different situation on this team. There are lots of jobs available," said Knights assistant coach Jeff Perry. "As a coaching staff, what we are looking for are players who can skate and pressure the puck. With the new rules against obstruction, we'll be looking for guys who can get there quickly and pressure the puck."

The game of hockey has gone to this place before. Officials have talked many times about cutting down obstruction and allowing skilled players to operate freely. But they've only adhered to the initiative in spurts, never for an entire season.

This year they've modified the rules, even the lines on the rink in an effort to make the game quicker. At the end of each exhibition game in the OHL, teams will practise shootouts, which will decide games tied after overtime.

Maybe this time hockey is serious about making the game attractive.

"You may not need the big, hulking guy anymore, especially if he isn't a great skater," Perry said. "If you can't lay a stick on the guy, they may not be as effective."

While a physical player is still a commodity, a physical player who can skate becomes a greater commodity.

Players like the Knights' Jordan Foreman, who isn't the biggest guy in the world but can skate and score, are going to love the new environment. Rob Schremp and David Bolland, when they return from National Hockey League camps, will also thrive. Skating will be the new premium in this environment.

"The league wants to open up the game, which is good for the fans and the game," Perry said. "I think (general manager) Mark Hunter and the scouting staff have done a good job of finding the type of player we need."

The new rules were immediately in evidence last night. Referees Marty Kirwan and Sean Reid -- the OHL will use two referees for up to half its regular season games and all its playoff games -- made sure the penalty box was constantly in use. Stick infractions were called closely, as was obstruction, and they weren't concerned about sending two or three players to the box at once.

There were 38 minor penalties called in the game.

The grousing has begun already as the same fans who didn't like the hooking, holding and stick work from previous years were complaining about the penalty calls.

Will it be called this way during the regular season? Probably not, but the message the league wants to send early is that it's going to be called a lot closer than it was in the past and stick infractions are on the hit list.

Who thrived in the first exhibition game? Well, it's only one game but it may be the first time in years the Knights may have an effective import player and the new rules may help him. Sergei Kostitsyn from Belarus flitted around the ice and had four assists.

The Knights only have Corey Syvret and Kyle Moore currently on the roster from the 2005 draft. Getting Kostitsyn and their other import, Czech Karel Kubat, to play well would be a bonus.

So is the emphasis on skating and skill.

Kilrea, 67's fined $5,000

Ottawa 67's GM-coach Brian Kilrea sounded off about the rules changes this week and it will cost the team a $5,000 fine.

Kilrea is unhappy the league is getting rid of the red line, stopping coaches from changing lines after icing the puck and placing restrictions on the number of midget, European and U.S. players on rosters.

"It is most unfortunate that one of the most esteemed coaches in major junior hockey should express his opinions in the fashion that he chose," OHL commissioner David Branch said.

GAME GLANCE

Knights 9, Sting 3

London goals: Jamie Vanderveeken 2, Adam Perry 2, Frank Rediker, Josh Beaulieu, Mike Steadman, Jordan Foreman and Corey Syvret.

Sarnia goals: Chad Painchaud, Tomas Pospisil and Harrison Reed.


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