Forwards ward off Knights penalties

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 9:00 AM ET

Finding something that's never been done before in hockey is about as likely as using four forwards to kill a penalty.

Check that.

Four games ago, London Knights coach Dale Hunter looked at his penalty-killing unit and decided it wasn't doing the job. The unit had given up two goals in three power-play chances on the road against the Erie Otters.

The obvious solution was to put out another unit, including tougher defencemen.

Not so obvious apparently. Hunter used four forwards to kill the next penalty.

"Erie was two-for-three on the power play early on," Knights assistant coach Jeff Perry said yesterday.

"He came down and asked me what I thought. It couldn't get worse than that because they were two-for-three already.

"Might as well try."

Out came the new "defensive" pairing of forwards Trevor Kell and Rob Drummond. Along with a combination of forwards that included Dylan Hunter, David Bolland, Jordan Foreman, Josh Beaulieu and Matt Clarke, the forwards would do most of the penalty killing.

"We're successful killing off the next seven penalties," Perry said. "Since then, our penalty kill is over 85 per cent."

Kell regularly kills penalties, so he wasn't surprised when Hunter told him to jump over the boards in that situation.

"The first time he said 'You and Drummy go out there,' and then he said Dylan and someone else," Kell said.

"I started skating off thinking he changed his mind. Then he said 'No, no stay out, you're on D.' "

"I'm like, 'Ooooohhhh.' I kept thinking, 'What do I do?' We never tried it in practice."

Since the two-for-three burst by the Otters, the Knights have allowed only two goals in 26 chances over the four games. That kind of success is going to guarantee the "experiment" continues a while longer. The Knights are ranked No. 1 in the OHL on the power play, but are 12th out of 20 teams in penalty-killing.

"I've never seen it done and I haven't heard of it until Dale experimented with it against Erie," Perry said. "You have to have certain kinds of players to try it.

"We tried it because Robbie Drummond and Trevor Kell are very quick to loose pucks. A lot of the penalty kill is to jump to loose pucks quickly. We tried it, it worked. We've had some success since they've been doing that."

Kell and Drummond aren't very big. This would never have been tried before hockey moved into a new age with new rules and a new standard of enforcement. The rules now make it difficult to move a guy standing in front of the net. The new currency in hockey is speed.

"Clearing the front of the net is gone now," Perry said. "The biggest thing is being able to jump to loose pucks. If we can jump to loose pucks, you are able to get pucks out.

"We're pretty aggressive on our penalty kill. Trevor Kell and Robbie Drummond are quick to the puck. They are 19-year-old players and a little stronger on their sticks. They take time and space away quick on the penalty kill."

Kell said they haven't worked on the four-man forward penalty kill in practice.

"They just want us to be the first one to the pucks to put pressure on their forwards," Kell said.

It's obvious the team's talent base is with the forwards. Not only are four forwards killing penalties now, five forwards operate the power play. That's been done before but it isn't common.

Most of the power-play time is taken up by Hunter, Bolland, Rob Schremp, Adam Perry and Sergei Kostitsyn. The forwards see a lot of ice time and have given up only four short-handed goals.

"You certainly want to put the five most talented players on the ice," Perry said, "and other than Bolland and Hunter, the others don't kill penalties.

"I think with those five guys on the ice, we have a lot of possession and you don't have to worry about your end. In a power-play situation, you are not worried about getting scored on, you're thinking about scoring."


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