All hockey coaches know, at one point in every season, a goaltender's mental toughness must be tested.
It could be as simple as facing a top-calibre team. It is often an endurance thing with making the goalie play three times in three days. Or it might even be ongoing uncertainty over who's starting from game-to-game, as it was for the London Knights the past few years.
But those coaching mind tricks won't work on Knights goalie Adam Dennis any more. The 20-year-old Toronto native is nothing but a constant display of mental toughness.
Before returning to the Knights, Dennis attended training camp with the Buffalo Sabres. In the middle of it, he had to leave because his uncle, Mark Dennis, passed away. He was 44 and had a heart attack while playing pick-up hockey.
"It was a rough couple of weeks for our family," Dennis said. "I was close to him and he has two kids -- eight and nine -- who play hockey. He was a great guy and all we can do is celebrate his life."
Later, Dennis ended up in a hopeless situation with Buffalo's American league affiliate in Rochester. Because the Sabres and Florida Panthers share the team, they would both provide a goalie and there was no room for Dennis on the roster.
That didn't stop him from performing.
"I still thought I had a great camp but I knew going in there wouldn't be a spot for me. There was an opportunity to play pro in Shreveport but I didn't know much about the (East Coast) league. There's a comfort in coming back to junior and getting the chance to play a lot of games."
There's no doubt he will be afforded that opportunity. Before Dennis's return, London lost four straight and had its biggest question mark in goal. Since he came back, the team has reeled off four consecutive wins and is playing with noticeably more confidence in front of him.
"I don't know if you can say it's me. We got back some pretty good guys on the offensive side of the puck, too," Dennis said. "We're a .500 team on paper right now but I think people will see pretty soon what kind of team we are. Definitely, I think we're contenders."
Dennis recorded the shutout in the Knights' Memorial Cup-winning game against Rimouski. He has played in two straight Memorial Cups and won two consecutive OHL titles.
Before he was dealt to London last year from Guelph, he was the biggest threat to thwart the Knights' 31-game unbeaten streak, guiding his Storm to a 0-0 tie.
"Adam's going to play 95 per cent of the games this year," London associate coach Jacques Beaulieu said yesterday. "It's up to us to make sure he's healthy to be in there all the time. You don't ever want to have an over-age player sitting out. We have Matthew Spezza (who turns 19 tomorrow as backup right now) and the decision we have to make . . . is whether we want to develop (17-year-old) Steve Mason at the Junior B level or to have him stay here and practise and play in the odd game."
London made a couple of roster moves yesterday but none of them had to do with their goaltending. The team released Czech import Karel Kubat and 19-year-old defenceman Ryan Lee, who was acquired in the preseason from the Plymouth Whalers.
The Knights also sent defenceman Kelan Herr, a Stratford native, and forward Mike Steadman, a Hunter nephew, to Petrolia Jets of the Western Junior B league.
- Tonight: at Brampton, 7:30 p.m. at the Powerade Centre
- Tomorrow: vs. Windsor, 7:30 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre
- Sunday: at Toronto, 2 p.m. at St. Michael's College Arena