The London Knights have been waiting all season for a breakout game like this from Jamie VanderVeeken.
The big forward from Wallaceburg scored twice, including the winner with three minutes left, for a 6-5 victory over the Sudbury Wolves before 9,090 last night at the John Labatt Centre.
"It's a relief. It's always nice to get a couple of goals. You work hard and you get the chance for some extra ice time and you want to make the most of it," the 19-year-old said. "(On the game-winner,) Rob Schremp put the pass right on my stick in front. All the credit goes to him there. That's why he's one of the best in the league."
VanderVeeken is as close to a journeyman as it gets in the OHL. He started his career with a brief stint in Guelph, played a couple of years in Toronto, bounced to Sault Ste. Marie, then landed in Ottawa last year in time to play in the Memorial Cup.
The six-foot-three, 223-pounder was surprised to be waived by the 67's this summer and landed on London's doorstep.
"He stepped up and chipped in some big goals with Sergei (Kostitsyn) gone to Belarus (for the world junior hockey B pool championship) and David Bolland away," in Vancouver with the Canadian juniors, Knights head coach Dale Hunter said. "There's some extra ice for some of these guys and we'll see who takes advantage of it. There could be even more ice (for them) when our other guys come back, if they earn it."
VanderVeeken's marker ruined a strong performance by Sudbury goalie and London native Chris Abbey, who kicked aside 44 shots, but fell to 0-3 in six appearances this year.
"It's a bitter pill to swallow. We didn't play 60 minutes and it cost us at the end," the 18-year-old said. "It was exciting for me to play here. I was pretty pumped, but after they scored the first three (in the first 11 minutes), I just tried to focus on one save at a time and that really helped."
A year ago, Sudbury ended London's 31-game unbeaten streak at the JLC and they were tough customers again. Falling behind 4-1, they struck back for four goals in less than 10 minutes one night after being shut out in Windsor.
But A.J. Perry knotted the game 17 seconds into the third period to set the stage for VanderVeeken's heroics.
"They work hard. It's a Mike Foligno-coached team, so you know they're not going to quit," said Dale Hunter, who was linemates with Foligno and Erie head coach Dave MacQueen during his OHL days in Sudbury.
"We're giving up more chances than we did last year. We have some guys on defence who are just playing their first games and that's tough. They did a good job, but it still takes some time."
Short on the blue-line after this week's trade of Steve Ferry and Matt McCready to Sarnia and injuries to Frank Rediker (knee) and the recently acquired Matt Pelech (shoulder), the Knights went to the call-ups and the backups.
Rookie defenceman Corbin Crawford, who played with the Wellington Dukes of the Ontario Provincial Junior A Hockey League and was a Knights fourth-round pick last summer, and 17-year-old Lucan native Mike Noyes, a six-foot-three, 185-pound member of the Petrolia Jets, played their first games in a London uniform.
Pelech is expected to make his Knights debut Dec. 28
in Guelph and Rediker is targeting a Jan. 1 return in Sarnia.
KNIGHTS 6, WOLVES 5
London goals: Jamie Vander-Veeken (2), Trevor Kell, Dylan Hunter, Rob Schremp, A.J. Perry
Sudbury goals: Matt Dias (2), Jonathan D'Aversa, Brett Parnham,
Next: London plays the
Mississauga IceDogs today at 7 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre. It's London's last pre-Christmas game.