Most of the Old West's greatest gunslingers have nothing on shootout king David Bolland.
Like some sort of modern-day Billy the Kid, the London forward dazzled Erie goalie Josh Disher on a brilliant move for the lone shootout goal in the Knights' nail-biting 5-4 victory over the plucky Otters last night before 9,090 spectators at the John Labatt Centre.
Bolland, whose usual approach to the one-on-one showdown is a forehand stuff move, mixed up his magic to stay perfect this season in shootout and penalty shot situations.
"I think I'm eight-for-eight," Bolland said with a grin. "The last time I went against him, (Disher) I went to the forehand, so I just tried something different. I'm not fussy about it (the shootout). I just like getting it done quickly."
Disher, who stopped 51 shots to force the shootout, simply tipped his hat to the Canadian world junior gold medallist.
"I really didn't know what to expect from him, but it was a great backhand move," Disher said. "Getting to the shootout in this building with all these people, it was exciting. We didn't get the win, but we'll take the point. It's not an easy one to get here."
London goalie Adam Dennis stopped world junior stars Ryan O'Marra and Mike Blunden, plus Vince Scott, to cement the Knights' 13th straight home win. He also robbed pesky Otter Chris Greene on a breakaway at the end of overtime.
"They have a good shootout lineup and we just ran into that team at the wrong time," Dennis said. "They just ended a long losing streak and that's a team that's going to be in the playoffs. We didn't play our usual game. How many times do we blow a three-goal lead at home? How many times will Rob Schremp and Dylan Hunter miss open nets like that at the end of the game?
"Stuff like that is only going to happen once every 10 years."
Schremp scored twice, including his 40th of the season, and Josh Beaulieu added a pair of goals, but the Knights could not hold a 4-1 lead over the visitors.
Still, London's new defenceman David Halasz made his debut and played a steady game at the back end to finish even in the plus-minus department.
Halasz hopes it was the start of a lengthy and successful rest of the season.
"I've been in the OHL for three years and I haven't played in the playoffs yet," he said. "In my rookie year in Ottawa, I injured my shoulder before the playoffs and was supposed to be ready for the second round, but we were beaten out.
"Then in Oshawa last year, we had a great start, but struggled the rest of the season and missed the playoffs."
With Oshawa in the cellar again, it looked like Halasz wouldn't be heading to the playoffs again until the Western Conference-leading Knights came calling.
"I was surprised when (Generals general manager Brad Selwood) told me London," the thoughtful Slovak said. "I knew how, last year, London was the best team in (Canadian Hockey League) history and, at first, I wondered why there -- did they need a bench warmer? But they (Oshawa) told me they (the Knights) needed a stay-at-home defenceman and it was between London and Peterborough. I knew they would never trade me (to the Petes) because it's the same conference."
Halasz has only played 19 games this year because of his wonky left knee, but he suited up in Oshawa's 8-2 loss to the Knights at the John Labatt Centre on Oct. 21.
"I hurt my knee in that game. In Oshawa, I wasn't even practising during the week -- just skating on Thursday and playing Friday, Saturday and Sunday. I was popping painkiller pills like candy and after a while, they weren't even helping."
In Oshawa, Halasz worked with phenom forward John Tavares, the exceptional rookie who was the first pick in last summer's OHL draft and will likely score 40 goals this season.
"He's 15 years old and he plays like a 19- or 20-year-old. His hands are unbelievable and he's so solid physically for his age. At the start of the year, we went into the corner and I thought to myself that I was going to get rid of him and he'd never come back. But I hit him and I almost fell over."
Knights 5, Otters 4
(London wins shootout 1-0)
London goals: Josh Beaulieu (2), Rob Schremp (2)
Erie goals: Ryan O'Marra, Derrick Bagshaw, Josh Vatri, Adam Berti
Next: London faces Kingston tonight at 7 p.m., then heads to Mississauga tomorrow for a Super Bowl Sunday tilt at 2 p.m. at the Hershey Centre.