Wilkins works hard doing double duty

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:42 AM ET

Plenty of skaters have suited up for both the OHL's London Knights and the Western Junior B Hockey League's London Nationals during their puck-chasing careers.

Not many have played regularly for both clubs at the same time.

Defenceman Andrew Wilkins is pulling double duty for the Knights and Nats this year and will take part in his personal 50th regular season game of the 2005-06 season when the Knights hit the ice tonight in Sault Ste. Marie against the Greyhounds. The Nats also play tonight but only improved clone technology would've allowed Wilkins to be at both games.

The 17-year-old Pickering native, who is also juggling Grade 12 at Saunders, knows there could be another 50 tilts on tap before his marathon hockey season ends. The master plan is for Wilkins to play with both squads throughout the playoffs.

"It's been exciting with this being my first year in the OHL and getting to play with both teams," said Wilkins, a 10th-round pick by the Knights in 2004.

"When I'm with the Nationals, I'm a veteran in that league and try to skate with the puck more and be a little bit more offensive. But in the OHL, I don't say too much and just try to do my job and get the puck up the ice."

At five-foot-nine and 170 pounds, Wilkins isn't the biggest blueliner but he's certainly this city's busiest. His next day off will likely come some time during the summer.

Last weekend, he played with the Knights on Friday in Sudbury and Saturday in Barrie, then joined the Nationals for their Sunday game in St. Thomas.

"I usually practise on Tuesday with the Nationals (at Western Fair Sports Centre) to prepare for the Wednesday night game with them," Wilkins said. "The rest of the time, I'm with the Knights. Both teams treat me very well and make me feel at home. I don't feel like I'm not part of one room or the other."

There is obviously an adjustment, playing in the two leagues. The Nationals play their home games on Olympic-sized ice while the Knights' surface at the John Labatt Centre is the smaller standard consist with the NHL.

"I don't notice the ice size change as much -- maybe behind the net -- but the standard of officiating in the OHL is that they call a lot more.

"In junior B, you'll get a stick hooked in your arm and have to keep going. It's not the same kind of game. But there are a lot of very good players in Junior B and it's really tight in that league. There are a lot of teams bunched up in the standings."

The mid-pack Nationals are jockeying for better playoff position while the Knights are trying to stave off the hard-charging Kitchener Rangers for top spot in the Western conference.

In either loop, Wilkins is going to have a say in how things shake out.

KNIGHTWATCH

Tonight: at Sault Ste. Marie, 7 p.m.

Friday: vs. Toronto St. Michael's, 7:30 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre

Saturday: at Erie, 7:30 p.m.

Sunday: at Guelph, 7 p.m.


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