Pizzazz missing as Knights hoist banners

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 11:58 AM ET

One banner at a time -- one game at a time.

The four new banners added to the rafters at the John Labatt Centre last night are symbolic of how the London Knights must approach this season, which opened with a 10-7 loss to the Saginaw Spirit.

The new collection includes Midwest Division champions, Western Conference champions, OHL champions and Memorial Cup champions.

To win each in progression is a long process and the Knights required 90 games to reach the pinnacle of major junior hockey last season. It's somewhere close to 2,500 games, if you include the 39 years that saw no championship for the franchise.

Speaking of which, the Knights had 40 years to plan their Memorial Cup banner-raising celebration but last night lacked any imagination. There was no pizzazz, no fireworks, no videoboard review of a championship run never before seen in Canadian Hockey League history.

The Knights had their one chance to really do it up right and they missed it.

Once the Memorial Cup banner was finally raised to the rafters -- in an afterthought -- Knights veteran forward David Bolland hoped the moment wasn't lost on the players.

"It's something we don't want to forget, but we want to stay on today's game and not look back," he said after his six-point night wasn't enough. "This is how it's going to be. Last year we had four lines that could come out. It will be one game at a time this year."

Everyone knew this was not going to be a repeat of last year by an long shot. The Knights were hit hard by graduation, but the reality may not have set in until last night.

"This is different," Bolland said. "We've been saying since the season was done that it's going to be really different. But we've got to deal with it. We can't lay down and let teams roll over us."

Bolland said that during the ceremony he thought about all the players who weren't at the JLC.

"It was such a great team. You came to the rink each day knowing it would be a fun day. But it's not that group tonight. It's a different atmosphere in here (the dressing room). I've never been in here without those guys."

The visitors weren't the only people at last night's game in Spirit. Ellen Van Welzen, with the Knights for almost 30 years, died three days after the Memorial Cup.

Van Welzen, who billeted countless players, lost a long battle with illness. Doctors told her she should be in hospital, but she was determined to be at that final game against Sidney Crosby and the Rimouski Oceanic.

There was Ellen, in the dressing room after, her portable oxygen unit in tow, having her picture taken with the Cup and "her boys."

Her determination to stick it out matched the Knights' determination and, in a classy move, Knights trainer Don Brankley delivered the Memorial Cup to the funeral home for the visitation.

"I did it for Ellen," Brankley said before last night's, pausing for a moment to reflect on an element of the junior game that the average fan may not be aware of.

For many players, this is their first experience away from home and creating a family environment away from the rink is just as important as the bond the players establish.

"She was an amazing lady who gave various players a great home. She was dedicated to this team," Brankley said.

In the midst of the post-Cup hoopla, Brankley didn't get around to checking his voicemail until the Wednesday night, a few hours after learning of Van Welzen's death.

One of the messages was from her. She'd called on the Sunday night upon going home after the Knights were crowned.

"It was really eerie to hear her voice, but she was just floating on cloud nine."

Perhaps there was a little bit of heaven in the JLC last night.


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