As proud defending Memorial Cup champions, the London Knights' core group of players still possess the hearts of lions.
But this season, the reigning OHL kings are vulnerable to those with legs like cheetahs.
With Adam Dennis in goal all the time and OHL-leading scorer Rob Schremp, captain Dylan Hunter and world junior gold medallist David Bolland playing more than 30 minutes each night, London head coach Dale Hunter is giving his team a quality chance to win every game.
Still, when the Knights confront a well-balanced, speedy club as the Barrie Colts were on Saturday night, they're going to surrender several quality scoring chances and get pinned in their own zone for minutes at a time.
To win it all again this year, London's defence will have to beat swift-skating forechecks and get the puck moving the other way more often.
It's all they're worried about right now -- the Knights' top-scoring defenceman is rookie Scott Aarssen, who has a grand total of two goals.
"At this point, the job is just to get the puck out of our end," Knights assistant coach Jacques Beaulieu said. "If the first pass is there, it's a count of one, two, and then it better be moving up the ice. Otherwise, just dump it out. We're not worried about the offensive part of the game. We just want to get the puck to our forwards and let them handle the rest."
The Knights are concerned about how many minutes their big guns are playing but really have no choice because this squad is unable to roll three or four lines like last year. Barrie scored the dramatic third-period game-winner while Dale Hunter tried to squeeze one final shift from a checking line before getting his top shooters out for the final two minutes.
The hope in the London camp is defencemen Matt Pelech, newly acquired David Halasz and Frank Rediker, who just returned from a 14-game hiatus with a sore knee, will overcome their injuries and stay in the lineup the rest of the season.
"We need 20 minutes out of Frank each game," Beaulieu said. "Frank did OK his first time back. He was a little red-faced at the end but you can't simulate game experiences. We need him to take away some minutes from some of our younger guys. We're counting on that."
Though defending a title is the hardest thing to do in any sport, London still has enough guys with chips on their shoulders who are willing to do whatever it takes to win.
Dennis, who was named to play in the OHL all-star game in Belleville on Feb. 1, admits he's still trying to make scouts believe he's a top-rank goalie and capable of playing at a higher level. Despite his spectacular play this season, he still doesn't garner the attention received by some other goalies around the league.
"After we went to the Memorial Cup with Guelph, our backup goalie (Danny Taylor) got drafted and I didn't so I didn't know what to think then," Dennis said. "I got drafted last year in the sixth round and it was great to be picked but I still felt I had to convince people about my ability. You definitely use that as motivation. I'm not where I want to be as a goalie. I want to get better. A lot better."