Knights tossing fewer punches

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:06 AM ET

What happened to the love for dropping the gloves?

The London Knights were involved in only three fights during November, one of the lowest fisticuff totals since the clean-living Flying Fathers.

These days, the guy in the Knights dressing room with the biggest welt on his face is coach Dale Hunter, who was nailed above the right eye with a puck at practice a couple of weeks ago.

Since 20-year-old tough guy Kelly Thomson was traded to the Oshawa Generals on Nov. 4, few Knights have found themselves a willing dance partner when the going got tough and it was time for the tough to start throwing.

"I think it's just the way our team is this year," said Knights forward Jordan Foreman. "There haven't been a lot of situations where there's been a need to fight. We're playing our game and there hasn't been the same level of chippiness out there so it hasn't resulted in as many (punchups)."

It isn't just the Knights since it takes two, as they say, to tango. With London's five-forward power play operating with 10 per cent more success than any other OHL team, opposition coaches know the best way to beat the Knights is to play fair.

Surprisingly, hard-working forward Kris Belan has been the busiest Knights knuckle-chucker this month with two fights -- one with Danny Anger in the dying seconds of a win over Sarnia on Nov. 6 and another with Windsor's Brian Soso on Nov. 4.

London's Josh Beaulieu, who many expected to draw top tussling duties this season, got into it with fellow Philadelphia Flyers draft pick Gino Pisellini in Plymouth on Nov. 12, but his pugilist talents are getting rusty.

"I believe a good fight can still swing momentum, but these days, momentum only lasts as long as the referee's next call," Beaulieu said. "There's been more power plays and I think that plays a role. For me, I got into a bunch (of fights) last year and started making a name for myself, so it opens up more room.

"I just think guys are getting used to this new game. I'm sure (fighting) will come back a little bit in time."

There are planned bouts and spur-of-the-moment scraps but Belan said he never goes looking for one.

"Some games are chippier than others and you really go on a game-by-game basis," the 18-year-old said. "There are some games you know going in that you're going to have a fight. Windsor's like that. When we play Toronto next (after blowing out the Majors 14-6 on Oct. 16), there will probably be one."

Another big reason for the decrease in fighting is the third- and fourth-line forwards, the guys most likely to mix it up, are getting less ice time.

"With the power plays and penalty killing, our third- and fourth-line guys only get two or three shifts a period as it is," Belan said. "When you do get on, you want to show the coach you can do something out there. Sometimes, you'll fight and take the five minutes and you're helping the team and showing the coach some emotion but definitely, everyone's happier (on the team) when everyone's playing and getting ice time."

Many Knights agree the way the game is played now, an OHL team can get away with using three forward lines or nine forwards. The only thing that would change that is injuries or one of those rare games where there are many fights.

London defenceman David Jarram, who was brought in from Ottawa to add a physical presence, practised yesterday. He has missed the past two weeks with a concussion.

Veteran defenceman Frank Rediker, who travelled to Sarnia on Saturday but didn't play, doesn't have a sore knee but is listed as out with the flu. The 20-year-old blue-liner didn't practise yesterday.

London forward David Bolland, who finished up his busy week with a goal in Team OHL's 5-1 win over the Russian Selects in the ADT Canada/Russia Challenge Monday in Peterborough, also received the day off. Bolland has played in four games against the Russians and scored in all of them.

KNIGHTWATCH

- Friday: vs. Sault Ste. Marie, 7:30 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre

- Saturday: vs. Owen Sound, 7:30 p.m. at the Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Centre


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