Goalie keeps 'Hounds in game

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:37 AM ET

The London Knights finished 36 points ahead of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in the Ontario Hockey League regular season.

The Knights scored 103 goals more than the Greyhounds.

Yet the Greyhounds allowed only two more goals than the Knights.

Toss about all the numbers you want before the two teams meet in their best-of-seven OHL Western Conference quarter-final beginning Thursday at the John Labatt Centre, but whatever success the Greyhounds are going to have against the Knights comes down to goals against.

And the guy who has as much to do with that as any Greyhound is goaltender Kyle Gajewski, the Londoner who has played more games in net than any goaltender in the OHL this year.

The Knights have given up 211 goals, the Greyhounds 213. Gajewski set a franchise record for games played in a season with 64, breaking John Vanbiesbrouck's mark of 62 in 1982-83. He also set a record for minutes in a season with 3,704, breaking the record set by Ray Emery in 2001-02.

If he's tired now, he may be exhausted after this series.

Gajewski will be facing a formidable offensive team. The Knights have three of the league's top four scorers in Rob Schremp, David Bolland and Dylan Hunter.

Tyler Kennedy is the Greyhounds' top scorer coming in, 43rd in the OHL.

"No, I'm not tired. I didn't want to take any time off," said Gajewski, a London Junior Knights product. "It's better to play and stay sharp and I'm not tired. It's nice to get a day off like we got (yesterday), but I feel good."

For a team that struggled most of the season, the Greyhounds have played pretty good hockey down the stretch. They go into the series with the Knights with a 7-2-0-1 record in their last 10 games, identical to that of the Knights.

Gajewski has been a key player in that stretch drive, including a week that saw him post back-to-back shutouts, giving up one goal in a three-game stint.

"We've been playing really well defensively," Gajewski said. "Because we're not a great offensive team, we have to work harder and be disciplined. We're really strong down low, so a lot of the shots aren't that hard."

While the two teams' records over the last 10 games are the same, the teams took a different approach as the season wound down. The Knights rested several of their key players over their last three games, including No. 1 netminder Adam Dennis.

There was some discussion in the Sault about giving Gajewski some time off.

"We haven't been in position to give anyone any time off until the weekend before last, when we clinched a playoff spot. Before then, there was no way he was coming out," Greyhounds head coach Craig Hartsburg said. "Then we thought about it, but the kid just loves to play. In the final game, he only faced 12 shots."

Getting behind early or giving up a bad goal would be like getting hit with a lethal dart for the Greyhounds. It makes Gajewski's play all the more important, although he says it's no big deal.

"I don't feel any more pressure. As long as we play as disciplined as we have the last little while, we'll be fine," he said.

There's one other statistic that might come into play. The Greyhounds are the least penalized team in the OHL. With power plays a big part of the new hockey, keeping London off the power play will help keep this series competitive.

And playing in front of a hometown crowd will be a rush for Gajewski.

"Playing in front of (9,090), there's a lot of adrenaline, even for the other team," he said. "The last couple of games with them have been close. I'm looking forward to it."

The Greyhounds are about as long a shot to win this series as there is. But this is a team happy to be here.

"If you had asked anyone in December, they'd say there was no way we'd be in the playoffs," Hartsburg said.

"But when we made trades to get younger, our goal was to make the playoffs. The kids worked hard and since Christmas, they've been a team. They deserve to be in the playoffs."


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