Junior Knights boast big talent

ERIC BENDER -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 1:39 PM ET

It was no aberration when seven London Junior Knights-developed players were taken in the 2005 OHL draft.

Though it may be difficult to top the quality of those picks, coaches and scouts say six to eight or maybe even 10 players could be taken next year.

Junior Knights president Joe O'Neill said there's another crop of draft choices coming along.

"There may be just as many taken (next year) but they won't be as high in the draft," O'Neill said.

In 2005, the minor midget AAA team had seven players drafted, six of them in the first 44 players selected, five in the top two rounds.

Logan Couture, who played last year with the junior B St. Thomas Stars and worked his way up in the Junior Knights' organization, was taken by the Ottawa 67's. Drew Doughty has become a stalwart with the Guelph Storm and plays there with Leigh Salters. Adam Zamec went to the St. Michael's Majors.

Andrew Wilson was picked by the Kingston Frontenacs.

Shawn Wood was selected in the sixth round by the Sarnia Sting.

Ten of the 17 Junior Knights teams won championships last season.

Plymouth Whalers scout Rick Boyle agrees there's plenty of talent in the Junior Knights' program.

Boyle expects six to eight players from coach John Caldarozzi's minor midget team to be drafted in the second to seventh rounds.

Boyle won't elaborate on the talent pool other than to say that everyone knows who the top-end players are. It's middle and lower-end players the scouts covet in hopes of choosing "a diamond in the rough."

Caldarozzi, a veteran of the Junior Knights program and former junior B coach, is in his first year with the minor midgets this year.

"We're more of a quantity team (than last year)," he said. He's been told as many as 10 players could be drafted, but the team needs to be successful for that to happen.

"They've got Grade 9 out of them and they see the possibilities," Caldarozzi said. "They didn't see the possibilities unless they APed with the minor midgets." AP means affiliated player from the lower level who is called up to fill in for injury or illness.

O'Neill said he sees "a few kids just coming into their own" on the team this year.

Caldarozzi has the minor midgets at a 14-2-3 record in the Minor Hockey Alliance of Ontario, 28-8-4 over all, with 10 shutouts, 159 goals for and 65 goals against.

The team won its first tournament of the year, a 20-team contest in Hamilton, but lost in the semifinal at the Junior Knights' own Green and Gold tournament to the Toronto Junior Canadians. They also lost in the semifinals in a Brantford tournament. They are second to Brantford in the Alliance.

Chuck Dufton has the major midget AAA team this year, also with a lot of 1989-born players gleaned from the AAA and AA ranks.

"They all know each other and they know how to play hockey," Dufton said.

The team is 12-2-2 in the Alliance, won the Green and Gold tournament and was a finalist in a Toronto tournament.

Few players are ever drafted from major midget, but some blossom after their draft year. Dufton thinks four or five of his players could get walk-on jobs with OHL teams -- as Brandon Prust did with the London Knights -- and a number could be playing junior B.

Behind the midgets, Jim Sidwell has the Junior Knights' bantam AAA squad which is 17-4-1 in the Alliance. They lost in the semifinal in one tournament and 5-3 in another to the Mississauga IceDogs, said to be the best bantam squad in Canada.

Sidwell, a former London Knights goalie, feels he has "five or six guys who will get looked at."

His team has a startling 1.50 goals against average and scores an average seven goals a game.

"We're trying to get these guys prepared for next season," he said. "It's like an apprenticeship for the big year. We have to teach them how to act off and on the ice and teach them a work ethic. I'll take 20 hard workers over 20 talented guys. Any win we get is the result of hard work."


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