Knights can detonate creaky rink's demise

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 11:50 AM ET

You've heard of teams blowing the roof off and the London Knights are positioned to actually do it.

Not that they're in a destructive mode, but the Knights are in a position to raise the roof at the Sault Memorial Arena.

And flatten the walls, seats and concession booths.

Construction is underway for a new arena to replace the 57-year-old home of the Soo Greyhounds. Virtually from the moment the 'Hounds are eliminated, the walls will come tumbling down.

Last night, the Knights made another dent in the Greyhounds with a 6-3 victory before the customary 9,090 witnesses to take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. The next two games are at the creaky Sault Gardens and unless the Greyhounds replicate their third-period burst of last night, a pile of bricks will soon be in the making.

It's too bad, in a way.

Whenever an arena comes down in Canada, so does a curtain on a lot of fascinating history. The junior home of Wayne Gretzky, Ron Francis, Craig Hartsburg and the minor careers of the Esposito brothers, along with dozens of other notables, unfolded there, along with an endless list of non-hockey events.

London guys such as Joe Thornton and Jeff Carter made big noise up that way before going to the NHL.

There is another more recent London connection. Knight Ryan Martinelli almost became a Greyhound until London general manager Mark Hunter stepped in and signed the St. Thomas Stars' defenceman last season.

It's too bad, in a way. The six-foot-five defender would have been following in the skate-tracks of his father, former Western Mustangs' coach Barry Martinelli.

Their careers certainly have parallels. Like his son, Barry was called up from junior B and went to a Memorial Cup playoff roster. There, the results diverge.

Ryan won a Memorial Cup ring. Barry got to face one of junior hockey's all-time powerhouses and it was there the Greyhounds made some history against the storied Montreal Junior Canadiens.

With the likes of Gilbert Perreault, Richard Martin, Jocelyn Gouvremont and a dozen more players who would go on to the National Hockey League, the Junior Habs racked up a record of 21 wins and one loss en route to the Memorial Cup championship.

"We had picked up Tim Bernhardt from Sudbury and he made something like 65 saves in a 5-4 win for us," Barry Martinelli recalled. "Montreal was terrific."

This Soo team is not always as out-gunned as that one. Eventually, the 'Hounds went to three straight Memorial Cups before winning it in 1993. Earlier, they had the same sort of record-busting squad as the Knights when they went undefeated at home in 1985, winning the last one over the Knights 6-5 in overtime.

The roles are reversed now, of course. It is the defending Memorial Cup champion Knights who have a stranglehold on the series and an opportunity to close out the ancient arena with wins Sunday and Tuesday. All that would remain is a junior B game there next Friday night.

It's been said before and probably will be many more times as these playoffs unfold: Taking a penalty against the Knights is like strolling into the den of a tiger.

It's not as though opponents don't know it. They watched the Knights honing their exceptional extra-man attack 68 times over the season.

A team like the Soo Greyhounds finds itself on a difficult tight-rope between a hard-working approach and the likelihood of penalties as a result, although the Hounds got away with some obvious ones late last night.

Throw into that equation the otherwise unrestrained approach of referees and their whistle-blowing, where what used to be borderline offences now cross the border, and it is not difficult to see the Knights applying the wrecking ball.


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