Belief keeping Knights in title hunt

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 11:04 AM ET

You have to believe. The London Knights did their last two games.

They believed in themselves. They believed that even without four regulars and their head coach, and with a rookie in net, they could still beat the best the OHL has to offer.

Believing in oneself -- even when others may doubt -- can take a team far.

Not that the Knights should expect to dodge the bullet again if they were to engage in another foolish bench-clearing. They got away with it once and have lived to keep battling for first place overall.

Their 4-1 win over Peterborough last night at the John Labatt Centre moves the Knights to within four points of the Petes.

Home-ice advantage in the playoffs would mean a lot to the Knights -- should they make it to the final -- as they have the second-best home record (only five losses, including a shootout). The Eastern Conference-leading Petes have four home losses.

If there ever were points where the Knights were expected to falter, they were last Sunday in Kitchener and then last night.

There have been questions all season about the Knights' depth. Would it be enough to sustain their assault at a second straight title and a second straight appearance in the Memorial Cup?

They had the depth to beat the Rangers, who are challenging them for first in the Western Conference, then the Petes.

The man behind the Petes' bench last night knows a thing or two -- or three -- about repeating, and is impressed with what he's seen from the Knights.

"They've had an amazing year," said coach Dick Todd, who started with the club as a trainer when the Petes made three consecutive trips to the Memorial Cup, beginning in 1978 and winning in 1979.

Todd later returned to two Memorial Cup tournaments as head coach.

"They made a lot of moves last year to ensure the title, so it's really a credit to the Hunter brothers, I think, that they've been able to do what they've been able to do a second year here, given the fact they made so many moves last year," Todd said as the two teams played the best game seen at the JLC this season, taking just two hours, five minutes to complete.

"You wonder, if for the fans, two times would be better than one," Todd said of a schedule that sees teams cross over conferences for a single home-and-home.

And who is responsible for the schedule? It's mid-February -- one month from the end of the regular season -- and the league's top two clubs finally played.

Todd said building a major junior dynasty these days is more difficult than back when the Petes won three straight OHL titles. No team has "three-Peted" since.

"There are more teams and you keep drafting later and how much talent is there, really?" Todd said.

"The Europeans and three over-agers help, if you can get the right people, but it was quite an accomplishment at the time. Once you get that confidence in your organization and those players have the desire, it can be done."

Todd has been good for the Petes. Two years ago, they missed the playoffs after 27 straight appearances, an OHL record.

Todd was retired after a stint in the NHL as an assistant coach with the New York Rangers (he has a 1994 Stanley Cup ring) and living with his wife Mary in a condo in Panama City, Fla., right on the Gulf of Mexico.

He was golfing five times a week, but caught the bug to return to Peterborough, his hockey roots, last season and took the Petes out of the depths to the conference final.

He also became the fastest Canadian Hockey League coach to reach the 500-win plateau, getting it in his 814th game -- against the Knights.

Last night, the Knights denied Todd his 552nd career win -- because they believed.


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