The second round of the OHL playoffs is old hat and a familiar spot for most of the London Knights.
But it's new territory for defenceman Matt Pelech, who hopes to keep his authentic-looking, playoff mohawk haircut going for another few post-season series and -- with some strong play by him and his defensive mates -- a berth in next month's Memorial Cup in Moncton.
The big 18-year-old blue-liner escaped a fate of early tee-off times when he was dealt to the Knights from the last-place Sarnia Sting in December. Before coming to London, the Calgary Flames' first-rounder had only appeared in one playoff series with the Sting -- a five-game defeat to Erie in 2004.
"When I was traded, I knew I was going from a team that had been struggling to an organization that had been the best in the Canadian Hockey League over the past three seasons," the six-foot-four, 222-pound Toronto native said. "It was a pretty easy transition but when I first got here, I was still trying to get over a shoulder injury so it took a while for that to feel better."
By acquiring Pelech for defencemen Steve Ferry and Matt McCready, London GM Mark Hunter took a chance on a high-potential player who had been injury-prone in Sarnia. The large lad still takes his share of lumps on the ice, but no one would ever dare label him as "soft".
On Feb. 12 in a crucial game in Kitchener, Pelech went down and blocked a slapshot with his face. Despite the blood and pain in his mouth, he returned to the game in the third period with a full face shield and the Knights ended up winning.
Pelech also pulled up lame with a leg injury in Game 3 of London's first-round playoff series in the Sault. With a three-game lead, the Knights had the option of letting him sit out to heal but he wouldn't hear of it. Pelech ended up playing a regular shift and helped his team close out the series in overtime.
"The leg hurt a lot in Game 4, but I kept thinking that the worst part about hockey is missing games," Pelech said. "I missed so many games the past two years that if there's any possibility of me getting in there, I'm playing. I'm not even going to think about it."