'It's early,' Knights say of losses

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:32 AM ET

Today is Sept. 27 and the Knights have already lost two games.

They didn't lose two games last season until Dec. 29.

In those two games, they've given up 18 goals. It took nine games last year before Ontario Hockey League teams had managed to score 18 goals against the Knights.

Most people figured this was going to be a rebuilding year for the Memorial Cup champions. But even with that knowledge, there was shock among Knights fans because of the severity of their losses. The Knights where whacked 10-7 by Saginaw and 8-1 by the Owen Sound Attack.

But as panic set in outside the John Labatt Centre, all was calm inside the building.

Knights general manager Mark Hunter picked up defenceman Ryan Lee from Plymouth Whalers and goaltender Matthew Spezza from the Ottawa 67's. The Knights yesterday assigned Andrew Wilkins to the junior B London Nationals and waived goalie Chris Wall, opting to keep the younger Steve Mason.

But Hunter wasn't burning up the telephone lines looking for help. The message he is sending out to those who are panicking is a simple one.

"It's early," he said. "Teams are still filling out their roster. They are trying to figure out who can and who can't play. Everyone is doing the same thing right now. My job is to find solutions to make us better. We'll get better."

For those looking at key dates, Oct. 5 seems to be a good one. That's when National Hockey League teams have to sign players to a contract if they intend to keep them in the NHL or with their minor league affiliates. Don't expect any major moves until after that date has rolled around.

By then, the Knights will know whether goaltender Adam Dennis and winger Dylan Hunter will return from Buffalo. That would fill two overage spots on the roster. Kelly Thomson and Frank Rediker are overage players on the roster right now.

Rob Schremp is with the Oilers and he still has a year of eligibility left but depending on how he performs in the final three Oiler exhibition games, he may wind up sticking.

"One thing we did find out (in the first two games) is that we just have too many young players. It's unfair to expect them to be able to step right in," Hunter said.

The Knights may have to make some changes even if they get those players back. That's why with the Owen Sound game already decided, the Knights coaching staff sat out players such as David Bolland, Trevor Kell, Sergei Kostitsyn and Rediker for the third period and some of the second period Saturday.

"We got a chance to see and learn some things. We talked about it internally," Hunter said. "We got a better picture of who could play and that was good."

Coach Dale Hunter has his hands full. Defensively, his club is about as green as they come.

"Our back end is young and it's a tough league," Hunter said. "There are a lot of little things they have to learn."

There's being young and then there's the issue of not being good enough. Hunter was asked if he's concerned about the club's talent level.

"It's early. If we get a few players back we'll be OK," he said. "Four years, ago we were in the same situation. We took our lumps but we have to let them feel their way through."

Taking this kind of beating early in the season may take a toll on a young player's confidence. Thomson called the first two games "an eye- opener" for everyone.

"There's no sense of panic," he said. "The older guys talked about it a lot in the dressing room. This year when you put on a London Knights jersey, you can't just expect to win. It's not like last year when we had an abundance of talent.

"This year is a lot different. We have to make our own identity and . . . work hard."


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