Former teammates share winning bond

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 9:16 AM ET

SAULT STE. MARIE -- Two years ago, London goalie Adam Dennis and Sault Ste. Marie forward Ryan Kitchen celebrated an OHL championship together with the Guelph Storm.

Now, the two old buddies are battling each other in front of the Knights crease, trying to push their teams a little closer towards another playoff title.

Three months ago, forward David Bolland was taking direction from Team Canada assistant coach Craig Hartsburg on the way to a world junior title in Vancouver.

Now, the Soo bench boss is trying to figure out how to shut down the London sniper, who scored 57 goals during the regular season and scored five times in the first three games of the Knights-Greyhounds Western Conference quarter-final series, which the Knights lead 3-0 after last night's 6-5 overtime win.

"It's a weird feeling -- he (Hartsburg) just showed me some little things with my game that really helped me out (in Vancouver) and now you look over at the other bench and he's there," Bolland said.

"It's like when we play (Steve) Downie in Peterborough, (Ryan) Parent in Guelph and (Tom) Pyatt in Saginaw. We were hugging each other after winning a championship together, and a couple months later, we're trying to stick it to each other."

The 21-year-old Kitchen said there's a special kinship that lasts forever between players when they're teammates during a championship run. That said, he knows he has to make life miserable for Dennis for the Greyhounds to have any shot at prlonging this series.

"We have to get in his face and create some traffic," said Kitchen, who has scored a goal in each of the first three games. "We all know he's a great goalie -- we outshot them by 20 in Game 2 and he stood on his head. He's a great competitor. But if we go hard to the net and can rattle him, we'll have a better chance."

Bring it on, the fiery Dennis said.

"If they want to come after me, that's fine," the 21-year-old puckstopper said. "I think I play better with an edge. Whatever they do won't affect the way I play.

"With Ryan, we're great friends off the ice and I thought he has been one of their better players so far. The way he plays, you can tell he's been in the playoffs before."

In watching and getting to know Bolland closely for nearly a month, Hartsburg developed a deep admiration for the London star's game.

"When you get to know David, you see a kid who just loves to play the game," Hartsburg said. "His puck-handling and patience with it is very strong. He's a smart player with a lot of heart and you can't measure that. He's not the biggest guy in the world and I'm sure he'll work on it (his strength) in the future to stick in the NHL (with the Chicago Blackhawks)."

The most important intangible all four figures -- Bolland, Hartsburg, Dennis and Kitchen -- own is the label of winners. Each one knows what it takes to be part of the last team standing.

"When you win a championship, you never forget what it took to get there," said Kitchen, the Soo's over-age player. "I just try to get everyone in the room ready to go. You have to make sure do the little things to win."

It's a philosophy the three players and coach know well. It's the familiar mantra of veterans who have won before.


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