Messing with Knights carries big risk

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:38 AM ET

A gathering of on-ice officials in Toronto on Monday began to have an enormous impact on the London Knights' playoff success last night during their 6-1 victory over the Soo Greyhounds.

The striped shirts were told by Ontario Hockey League referee-in-chief Ted Baker that there will be no change in the officiating standard established during the season.

You know what that means. It means all the things that made the Knights -- and other top teams -- dominant forces in the regular season remain intact.

It started last night in the Knights-Greyhounds opening game, when refs Mark Hicks and Shaun Davis left no doubt the more benign approach of earlier playoff hockey adjudicating has disappeared.

Consistency of anti-restraining calls, provided it is adhered to, means the better teams will be able to play their game and the lesser teams will have to pay for their excesses by facing power plays. London's is the most lethal.

London makes opponents pay for their sins an average of 30 per cent of the time and last night made it 40 per cent. In other words, teams attempting to drag the Knights down a level will have to do it at their own risk.

It was seen last night. Four of London's six goals were the result of penalties.

Sergei Kostitsyn was on a juicy rebound like a fat kid on a Smartie for the Knights' second goal . The third, by Dylan Hunter, came just as Hounds' Tyler Cuthbert was emerging from the box -- so while it was not a power play goal, it was fashioned by London's vaunted power-play unit.

Hunter, who said he was pleasantly surprised by the tight officiating, expanded the gang attack output with his second score halfway through the third period and David Bolland added two more on power plays before it was over.

Earlier officiating always was baffling to logicians. What is the rationale for a penalty in the regular season not being deemed a penalty in the playoffs? Or, for that matter, why is a penalty in the first period not a penalty in the last minute or overtime?

Not only is the tougher standard on restraining fouls still in place, there'll be two sets of eyes to watch for them. Two referees will be used throughout the playoffs. Half the OHL regular season games used a brace of refs during the season.

"Everyone is clear on it," Baker said of the officiating standard. "We had the officials in and have been in contact with every club."

None of this bodes well for a team like the Soo, a team that made the playoffs largely on an excellent work ethic coach Craig Hartsburg has instilled in them. You can almost hear their teeth grinding as they attempt to force the action.

It works. The problem is it doesn't work enough of the time for a team with a rather modest set of finishers. The times the Greyhounds did threaten, particularly on close-in attempts by Brandon MacLean and Jacob King, goalie Adam Dennis turned them aside.

When a team such as the Soo is down a couple of goals, miseries can only increase, particularly if the Knights drop into their neutral zone trap. It's like a frustrating change of pace, followed by another wave of proven goal-scorers as the Knights revert back to their usual game.

There was a time a relaxed interpretation of the rules provided an outgunned team a chance once the playoffs began. That no longer exists.

The Knights beat the Hounds all four times they met during the regular season by a cumulative 15 goals to six. Since there are no free penalty passes anymore, it would take a London collapse of epic proportions to reverse that trend.

Things like that don't happen to a team full of players who won the last Memorial Cup.


Photos