Hunter power play deadly

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

Dale Hunter spent more time in NHL penalty boxes than anybody but Dave (Tiger) Williams.

Now, he's the architect of the most devastating power play in major junior hockey. Clearly, the 19-year big leaguer learned some things while sitting in the sin bins.

The London Knights head coach has turned his team into the ultimate punisher of opponents who take penalties. At the top of the OHL in power-play goals this season, the Knights scored 25 times in two wins over Windsor and Toronto on the weekend, with nearly half those goals coming with the man advantage.

"You have to get it in their zone and get it set up quick. Puck possession is important. You have to pass it," Hunter said this week.

"You watch how teams are defending it. Do they play a box or a diamond? Do they come after you or sit back?"

The Knights use three offensive wizards -- top scorer David Bolland, hard-shooting Rob Schremp and shifty Dylan Hunter -- from last year's Memorial Cup-winning squad.

The Knights' power play was so deadly last season, it resembled a group of sharks circling a swimmer.

"With Corey Perry and (Dan) Fritsche gone, I don't think we ever thought the power play was going to be as good as last year," Bolland said. "But it has and I think it surprised us all how quickly it came together.

"We know it's going to get harder as we go along, but we've got it working right now. When we're on our game and working together, it's hard to stop."

Hunter has used some quirks on his power play in the past, including employing a strictly right-handed setup and an all-lefty unit.

This year, he has turned to a five-forward approach. It's risky because it leaves open the possibility of a shorthanded goal.

The Knights surrendered a short-handed goal to Windsor and gave up a two-man breakaway to Toronto, which required goalie Adam Dennis to save them.

But the Knights know they can take some chances with their over-age goaltender, who is 7-0 since returning from the training camp of the Buffalo Sabres' affiliate in Rochester.

"I've been back on the point on the power play and we've given up a couple of two-on-ones, but it's usually been all right," Bolland said. "We've used five forwards and four forwards with (defenceman) Frank Rediker back there. We've alternated between A.J. Perry and Jamie VanderVeeken in front of the net. We like to mix it up, keep the other team guessing.

"We watch film to see what the other team is doing. It's an important part of the game. Especially with the way the refs are calling almost everything, you have to score on the power play."

The Knights make in-game adjustments to the power play, but it only works with intelligence and patience. Frustration breeds individualism and when you don't trust a teammate enough to pass the puck to him on the power play, then you give up the advantage.

On a typical London power play, Bolland, Schremp and Hunter will stay out for the duration. Hunter usually sets up on the half-boards or rotates low into the corner because he is a good passer, strong on the puck and rarely loses a one-on-one battle.

Because Bolland has a powerfully accurate shot and Schremp simply fires bullets, those two hang out at the high point or around the slot area for scoring opportunities. They move the puck quickly around the perimeter to set up their own chances.

If the defenders cheat toward the blue-line, then the puck swings inside for a cross-crease feed and easy tap-in.

"There's a couple of different ways to get it done," Bolland said. "I don't know if it will change the way teams play against us -- it hasn't yet -- but if they're going to take penalties, then we're going to be successful."

Recently suspended Windsor head coach Moe Mantha said there was one way to stay with the Knights -- don't let them get on the power play. In today's OHL, that's much easier said than done.


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