Thomson facing a familiar fight

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:21 AM ET

This is nothing new for Kelly Thomson.

He was in the same situation one year ago -- fighting for a spot with the London Knights.

The 20-year-old Londoner is vying for one of three over-age positions on the defending OHL and Memorial Cup champions.

"I kinda keep hearing they have to wait and see what happens," Thomson said before practice yesterday. "But I'd rather earn a spot than wait for someone to make it with another team.

"I want to prove I belong. I want to make the decision really hard on them."

Thomson, a left-winger, is the only over-age candidate currently in camp, but the Knights may have as many as five to pick from.

The others are goalie Adam Dennis, who is at the Buffalo Sabres' camp, defenceman Frank Rediker, with the Boston Bruins, and forwards Dylan Hunter, with Buffalo, and Drew Larman, at the Florida Panthers camp.

Thomson, who was born in Calgary but raised in London, was one of the most improbable additions to the Knights' lineup last season. At age 19, he came to camp as a free agent -- and fighting a weight problem -- after being drafted by Sarnia in 2001.

He's only five-foot-nine and right now tips the scales at 207 pounds (he wants to get back down to 195), but it was his heart that won his way onto the team. And the fact he wouldn't back down from a good fight.

Thomson had nine goals and six assists with 161 penalty minutes, second only to Brandon Prust's 174.

Thomson's stick is even in the Hockey Hall of Fame after he scored the winning goal in the Knights' CHL record-tying 29th straight game without a loss.

"You've got to respect his character," assistant coach Jeff Perry said. "He came into our camp last year a long shot to make it, but he got noticed very quickly when he showed how desperate he was.

"Now he's back in the same situation and he wants to be a London Knight."

Perry said without the heart, Thomson might have not made the team and would not be wearing a Memorial Cup ring.

"Not to take away his skill, because he does have that element to his game, but here was a kid from this area that grew up with a lot of pride in the London Knights and he was one of those kids that was hungry to play for this team."

It's a wait-and-see game for every team when it comes to over-agers at this time of year and Perry said it's healthy to have a number of candidates.

"It's good to have that competition internally. It leads to success. Guys are always on edge and always hungry."

Thomson said the new standards on calling obstruction may hinder his game.

"I won't be able to grind it out the same down low in the corners, but once I'm in front of the net, I won't be slashed as much. I won't have some guy six-foot-six bullying me," he said, breaking into a smile.

In the meantime, he'll just continue to do what he's always done -- go hard every shift at each practice and game -- and whatever happens, happens.

"I'm not thinking about what I'll do if I'm not playing here," he said. "At the end of the day, I'll do what I have to.

"At the start of last year, when I was fighting for a job and was in and out of the lineup, if you'd said I'd be in the position I am now, doing it again, I would have said you're crazy.

"Never in a million years did I see me in a Memorial Cup. I grew up watching the Knights through the good and bad at the Gardens with (London) guys like Prustie (Prust), Rods (Bryan Rodney) and Drummer (Rob Drummond) and we took a lot of pride that we won the first championship here."

KNIGHTWATCH

Next: The London Knights conclude their preseason schedule tomorrow against the Mississauga IceDogs at the John Labatt Centre. Game time is 7:30 p.m.

New zebra coach: Former NHL linesman Ray Scapinello has been added to the OHL's team of officiating supervisors. Scapinello, 58, from Guelph, retired after the 2003-04 season. He spent 33 years in the NHL, working 2,500 regular-season and 426 playoff games. He made 20 Stanley Cup final appearances. Before going to the NHL, he worked in the OHA junior A league, which later became the OHL.


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