Kelowna back in Cup contention

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:58 AM ET

The Kelowna Rockets are firing on all cylinders again and the Rimouski Oceanic are sinking without Sidney Crosby on board.

Before the 2005 Memorial Cup, not many London hockey fans would have cared much about what went on beyond the OHL's borders.

The Knights had never won a league championship so, frankly, there was little reason to get excited about what was going on in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League or the Western Hockey League.

But the Cup's appearance at the John Labatt Centre in May broadened the hockey horizon here.

Instead of your typical Friday night fare of facing off against the Windsor Spitfires or the Owen Sound Attack, the Knights were suddenly playing such exotic opponents as high-scoring and passionate Rimouski from Quebec or the defensive-minded and physical Kelowna squad from British Columbia.

Every so often, some of the remaining Knights will take a peek at how their Cup counterparts are competing.

"You take an interest in the teams that were here because we've seen these guys play and coached against them," Knights assistant coach Jeff Perry said. "I do find you look and see how they're doing from time to time."

So how are last year's four Cup participants performing since providing London with some of the more memorable moments in this city's sporting history? After an 0-4 start, the Knights got back top dogs Rob Schremp, Dylan Hunter and goalie Adam Dennis from pro camps. Now, the defending Memorial Cup champions have won 12 of their last 13 games and are on track for a third straight 50-win season.

Out west, the three-time defending WHL champion Kelowna Rockets, who went winless in London, haven't let their Cup disappointment affect their league dominance. The Rockets have a 12-6-0-1 record. They're 9-1 on the road and played the Prince George Cougars last night at home.

"They (Kelowna) look like they're doing well again and they were strong the season before they won three straight league titles," Perry said. "That's five years of being right up there and that's incredible in major junior hockey. If you're competing once every three years, then you're doing something right. They must have an excellent scouting staff and a fine organization to go year-in, year-out like that."

Goalie Derek Yeomans is 7-2 with a 1.37 goals against average. Kristofer Westblom, who manned the crease for the Rockets during the Cup, is 4-3 with a 2.37 GAA.

Blake Comeau has 10 goals and 28 points while Justin Keller has 14 goals and 28 points. Big Troy Bodie, who's an Edmonton Oilers prospect like Schremp, has 10 goals.

While the Rockets keep rolling, things aren't going as well for Cup finalist Rimouski, which predictably dropped to dead last in the Quebec league with the graduation of superstar Sidney Crosby to the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins and his supporting cast moving to other teams.

Goalie Cedrick Desjardins is playing for the Quebec Remparts and Crosby linemates Dany Roussin (Manchester) and Marc-Antoine Pouliot (Hamilton) are in the American Hockey League.

Eric Nielson, who clubbed Corey Perry early in the Cup final, has played four games with the Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL and has 12 penalty minutes.

Cup semifinalist Ottawa 67's, who already visited the JLC and lost to the Knights this season, have started slowly and haven't been scoring much but you can't count them out with Brian Kilrea as head coach.

Last year, the 67's had a poor start and then made a late run to meet London in the OHL championship series. The 67's -- win or lose -- are competitive every year and Knights forward Jordan Foreman said, as a player, he is fascinated in watching how franchises bounce back from a magical season.

"I haven't looked at the standings in a while but you're interested in how the teams recover after a year like that," Foreman said. "You could see Rimouski, like us, was built to win last year. But what we've been able to do, and what Kelowna must be able to do, is get guys who aren't drafted until the later rounds to make big contributions. When you finish so high in the standings, it's the only way to keep it going."

Foreman, for instance, is a former seventh-round pick of the Knights.


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