Returns restore Knights' chances

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:37 AM ET

Some OHL franchises spend years trying to transform from rebuilder to championship calibre.

For the London Knights, all it took was a few key cuts from the pro ranks to go from pretender to contender.

Sunday's special delivery of goalie Adam Dennis and forward Dylan Hunter from Rochester plus the Edmonton Oilers' gift Monday of high-scoring Rob Schremp, who is expected at practice in London today, has restored a sense of identity to this year's Knights.

Gritty forward Josh Beaulieu, whose impending return this week from a five-game suspension for bullying, is an instant believer.

He knows what the additions mean to a team that began with four straight losses before beating the Soo Greyhounds 6-2 on Sunday.

"We're definitely a contender now," the 18-year-old said. "I watched this team for five games now and getting these guys back gives us a lot of confidence."

It also takes pressure off players such as David Bolland, Trevor Kell and over-age defenceman Frank Rediker, who had been playing major minutes for an inexperienced London club.

"Dylan and Robbie are going to put the puck in the net. They're going to eat up some minutes," the 19-year-old Kell said. "That's going to help us so much. David and I logged a lot of ice time last game and you can't keep that up for long. It's just great to have some familiar faces back who share the experience of last year and winning the Memorial Cup."

Not only that, the Knights dressing room will go quickly from library quiet to lively. Hunter and Schremp will make sure of it.

"It was pretty quiet in there. There were a lot of young guys and no one was saying too much," Kell said.

Because of the roster changes, swift-skating Robbie Drummond returned to his experiment on defence during practice yesterday.

With Dennis in the crease, the Knights can afford to take some chances and let some people learn on the fly.

"We don't try to look at it in terms of we're a first- or second-place team, but there is definitely an excitement here," Knights assistant coach Jeff Perry said. "We're not just adding guys who are important to the London Knights here. We're adding guys who are premier players in the whole Canadian Hockey League."

With all their expected bodies back in place, the Knights are expected to pick a captain and assistants this week.

"It was a little strange playing without one," Kell said. "When they had the ceremonial faceoff before the first game, David (Bolland) and I looked at each other and I kind of gave him a nod to go take it.

"Talking to the refs was also by committee. With captains, we won't have to worry about that anymore."

London will get a chance right away to see what kind of improvement its veteran players provide. On Friday, the Knights face the Barrie Colts, whose lone blemish in five games is a shootout loss, and then skate against the perennial contending Ottawa 67's on Saturday night.

On Monday, the Knights head to Windsor to face a Spitfires squad in disarray.

Spits forward Steve Downie, who was handed a five-game suspension by the team for his part in a fight with rookie Akim Aliu, left town Monday and demanded a trade.

The 18-year-old Downie had hit Aliu in the face with his stick during a recent practice, causing the youngster to lose two teeth and require stitches. The pair also fought twice.

Both were ordered to take counselling.

Spitfires owner Steve Riolo told the Windsor Star the team isn't interested in trading Downie.

The OHL will review the punishment. Aliu, who served a one-game team suspension, is eligible to return to the lineup tomorrow against Ottawa.

KNIGHTWATCH

Friday: vs. Barrie Colts, 7:30 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre

Saturday: vs. Ottawa 67's, 7 p.m. at the JLC

Monday: at Windsor, 2 p.m.


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