Dennis adjusts to new game

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:05 AM ET

If anyone was a prime candidate for a confidence crisis, it would be the guy standing in the London Knights crease.

Adam Dennis comes into tonight's tilt against the Erie Otters with the highest goals-against average in his four-year OHL career.

The 20-year-old over-age goalie recorded a shutout in the Memorial Cup final last season, but it's ex-Knights teammate Gerald Coleman who's suiting up for the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Lightning these days.

The fellow Dennis was traded to London for last year -- Ryan MacDonald -- is now the Guelph Storm's golden boy in goal and the league's leading puck stopper.

So what's the matter with Dennis?

Absolutely nothing, says the goalie himself and everyone around the Knights. He's 12-1 since returning from pro camp in the Buffalo Sabres organization and the inflated 3.46 GAA is a byproduct of hockey's new offensive style and the inevitable switch from veterans to youth on the Knights' blue-line.

"You can't look at anybody else and worry about what they're doing," Dennis said. "You have to focus on yourself and your own team.

"I know I won't have the greatest stats this year because of the changes in the game and our team. Last year, a lot of the shots came from the outside and it was easier to control the rebounds.

"Now, there's a lot more traffic because the defence isn't allowed to do what it used to do. You used to be able to hang out on the goal-line and make saves by reflex. Now, you have to pay attention to your depth, play the angles and, on screened shots, hope the puck hits you.

"The biggest thing for us is communication and we're working on it. It takes time before you get used to every player and, hopefully after Christmas, we'll be in full gear."

Dennis will undergo increased scrutiny this season because, barring injury, he is the one to carry London through the season and the playoffs.

There is a chance he will play every game and that could become apparent over the next two weeks. The Knights start their first of six games in nine days tonight and there won't be a better opportunity to rest Dennis in favour of 17-year-old backup Steve Mason.

"He (Steve) has to show us in practice he's ready to play," Knights head coach Dale Hunter said. "He knows he has a good goalie in front of him and he has to work really hard to get into a game."

Dennis has already earned the respect of his teammates, who see no difference from the guy who nearly singlehandedly ended London's phenomenal unbeaten streak last year in a 0-0 tie while he was playing for Guelph -- the last in OHL history if the shootout stays part of the rules.

"He's a tremendous goalie," Knights forward Rob Schremp said. "Denny (Dennis) is unbelievable at breakaways. I face him every day so I know how good he is.

"I see no difference in the way goalies are playing now, but they're more vulnerable. There's a lot more one-on-one situations because the defence can't hook and grab onto the forwards. There's more shots from point-blank range."

KNIGHTWATCH

Tonight: Knights vs. Erie, 7:30 p.m. at John Labatt Centre

Tomorrow: Knights at Plymouth, 7:30 p.m.

Sunday: Knights at Sault Ste. Marie, 7 p.m.


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