Knights quick to draw first blood

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:39 AM ET

The London Knights will knock Sault Ste. Marie from the playoffs quickly unless Greyhounds goalie Kyle Gajewski makes some personal history.

In two years, the 18-year-old London native has yet to win an OHL game in his hometown arena. That window of opportunity is closer to shutting after London beat Gajewski and the 'Hounds 6-1 in their Western Conference quarter-final opener before 9,090 last night at the John Labatt Centre.

London journeyman forward Jamie VanderVeeken, who played 11 games for the Greyhounds last year, scored 54 seconds into the game. The Knights piled on four power-play goals to draw first blood in the best-of-seven series.

Knights captain Dylan Hunter and David Bolland scored a pair each, Sergei Kostitsyn added a goal and five points and Rob Schremp racked up five assists to keep the OHL's top power play humming along at a 4-for-10 clip last night.

"I don't think we're in his (Gajewski's) head -- you can tell he's not a quitter," said Schremp, the Knights' nominee for the Red Tilson Trophy given to the OHL's most outstanding player this season. "Even when he was down, he made some great saves. We know he's not going to give up and they're going to come at us again (tonight)."

Gajewski, who surrendered a half-dozen goals in a game for the first time since Feb. 11 in Owen Sound, turned aside 38 London shots and knows his team has to figure out a way to win here soon.

"We were too undisciplined -- we gave them way too many power plays and you can't do that against (London)," the five-foot-11, 160-pound puckstopper said. "It's a different feeling (at the JLC). It's not that the atmosphere is better (than other rinks). It's just that everything is magnified. It's a bigger rink."

VanderVeeken's opening tally was his first playoff goal since he played with the Toronto St. Michael's Majors two years ago. He was part of Ottawa's run to the Memorial Cup last year and he said every little bit of big-game participation helps.

"There's no substitute for experience," the 20-year-old Wallaceburg native said. "When you go through a playoff, you learn the little things -- like chipping the puck up and not taking it upon yourself to do too much. It's good to get the first goal out of the way and, hopefully, there's more to come."

Getting to Gajewski early was a major key to London's approach last night. The Knights know a quick route to the second round is to frustrate Gajewski and get him out of his comfort zone.

"I played against him growing up and we know what to expect from him," Cambridge native Jordan Foreman said. "We want to throw a lot of shots at him. It's the playoffs, so anything can happen if you shoot the puck."

This season, the Sault goaltender appeared in 64 games, which surpassed the Sault's team record of 62 by John Vanbiesbrouck in 1982-83, and played 3,704 minutes to top current Ottawa Senators goalie Ray Emery's old Greyhounds mark of 3,478 in the 2001-02 campaign.

London defenceman Matt Pelech, who had been wearing a full face shield for the past month to protect his injured mouth, reverted to the half-visor for the playoffs.

"It's more of a mental thing than anything else," he said. "When I was wearing the full shield, I was a target. Now that it's off, it's a lot better."

London and Sault Ste. Marie have met in the OHL playoffs only once before -- the Wayne Maxner-coached Knights took a six-game series over Don Boyd's Greyhounds in 1987-88.

Gajewski's backup goalie was Matthew Spezza, who started three of London's first four games -- all losses -- before being released when Adam Dennis returned from the training camp of the Rochester Americans.

GAME GLANCE

Knights 6, Hounds 1

London leads best-of-seven Western Conference quarter-final 1-0

London goals: Jamie VanderVeeken, Sergei Kostitsyn, Dylan Hunter (2), David Bolland (2)

Sault goal: Ryan Kitchen

Next: The Knights and Greyhounds play Game 2 tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre


Videos

Photos