Knights reject criticism

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:33 AM ET

First, London Knights head coach Dale Hunter indicated he was rewarding his star players by letting them play late into lopsided games.

Now, he's calling it a defence mechanism.

Responding to criticism he ran up the score in an 11-2 victory over Windsor Friday and a 14-6 win in Toronto Sunday, Hunter said yesterday he is attempting to protect his players from harm rather than trying to embarrass the opposing team.

"Anybody who was watching the Toronto game could see Rob (Schremp), David (Bolland) and Dylan (Hunter) didn't get a regular shift in the third period," Hunter said. "They were only out there on the power play.

"Toronto was going after Rob, David and Dylan, taking runs at them. That was the strategy. I take them off and then they're cross-checking our young guys. This year, the referees are calling it and gave them penalties they deserved. If you don't want our top guys out there on the power play, don't take penalties. It's as simple as that."

Toronto St. Michael's head coach Bud Stefanski spoke out against London's tactics after his team's blowout loss.

"They did that to Windsor, too -- that just shows the class they have," he said.

Players and coaches on the receiving end of a spanking usually don't say much other than the golden rule of competitive athletics: what goes around, comes around.

"Bud said what he said," Knights general manager Mark Hunter said. "It has nothing to do with Bud or Toronto or Windsor. We've been called names before. If you're a fan of junior hockey, do you want Robbie Schremp sitting on the bench for the entire third period? I don't think anybody who paid to get in wants to see that. They want to see the best players in the league on the ice."

Mark Hunter backed up his brother's statement that there is a reward system and it would be penalizing his players to sit them out rather than let them earn extra points.

"Would Corey Perry have won the scoring title last year if he sat out in the third period all the time in the games that weren't close," Mark Hunter said. "I don't think he would've won it. You have to think about things like that. It's important."

The Knights' top players are glad their coach is sticking up for them this way.

"Everyone is saying that Hunts (Dale Hunter) is running up the score, but if other teams are going to lay the lumber, we're going to make them pay for it," said Bolland, the team's leading scorer. "Plus, we're the power-play unit -- who else is going to go out there when the other team takes a penalty? We need to work on our power play, too. It's a huge part of the game. The penalty kill, too."

That's been the dilemma for London's opposition. The Knights' five-forward power-play unit is comfortably leading the OHL and connected at a rate of nearly 50 per cent in the wins over Windsor and Toronto.

Common sense would indicate the way to beat London, winner of seven straight games, is to limit its opportunities with the man advantage. But that hasn't happened -- the Majors gave the Knights 18 power-play chances, including a string of six straight in the first period.

Yesterday, London released 19-year-old goaltender Matthew Spezza, who was brought in from Ottawa early in the season when the Knights were without starter Adam Dennis.

Spezza was 0-2 with a 5.58 goals-against average in three games with the team. The Knights turn to 17-year-old Steve Mason as their backup behind Dennis.

"We're looking for a place for Matthew to play," Mark Hunter said. "At the beginning of the year, we weren't sure if Adam would be back. Now, he's going to play most of the games and Steve will back him up."


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