Stingy Attack present next London test

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:21 AM ET

The London Knights never doubted defending the OHL and Memorial Cup titles would be difficult.

This year's Knights always expected repeating as playoff champions would require -- metaphorically speaking or not -- travelling down long and winding roads.

First stop of the playoffs: Sault Ste. Marie.

Second stop: Owen Sound.

The Knights and Attack open their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre.

Around the London area, Owen Sound is known as a cottage destination best visited during summer vacation. If the Knights can't weave their power-play magic and late-game heroics against the inspired Attack, summer break will come quickly.

"I was telling (rookie goalie Steve Mason) at practice that my summers have been short the past two seasons, but they've been rewarding," said London netminder Adam Dennis, who has played in the last two Memorial Cups.

"We know it's going to be tough against Owen Sound. They said all along they were built for the playoffs and they are. For us, the key is always special teams. Our power-play has been big this year and we have to keep it going in this series."

Though London won the season series 4-2 against Owen Sound, the Attack are the most dangerous underdog in the second round. After dispatching powerful Kitchener in five games, their players believe in what they're doing and won't be discouraged easily.

"We beat a team of Kitchener's calibre and our reward is we get to face the defending Memorial Cup champion London Knights," Attack head coach Mike Stothers said. "We all know how they've been over the past three years.

"We just feel it's a privilege to be among the eight teams still playing. Team of destiny? We're not looking that far down the road."

The last four OHL champions have come from the league's Midwest Division: Erie (2002), Kitchener (2003), Guelph (2004) and London (2005). Owen Sound remains the odd team out.

"We know to have success, we're going to have to win on the road at the Labatt Centre," Stothers said. "With 9,000 people, it's an intimidating place to play. Kitchener has less, but it's still pretty close.

"We like to think we have a building (the J.D. McArthur Arena in the Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Centre) that, though it doesn't have the same number of people in it, is a tough place to play, too.

"Against Kitchener at our place, it was the loudest I ever heard it in my four years here."

Though London's inexperienced blue-line will have to contend with top shooters Bobby Ryan (second pick of 2005 NHL draft by Anaheim) and 53-goal scorer Mike Angelidis, the bigger battle will be London's top guns -- Rob Schremp, David Bolland, Dylan Hunter, Sergei Kostitsyn -- against Owen Sound's stingy defence, which held Kitchener's top scorer, Evan McGrath, to one goal in five games.

London will have to slow down Slovakian back-ender Andrei Sekera, who gives London's Robbie Drummond a good run as the league's best skater.

Owen Sound defenceman Bob Sanguinetti is rated ninth among North Americans in the upcoming NHL draft and fellow blue-liner/tough guy Theo Peckham is 57th, but some teams are talking about grabbing him as high as the second round.

The goaltending matchup pits Dennis, this season's top goalie, against Michael Ouzas, last year's award winner while with Mississauga.

KNIGHTWATCH

London vs. Owen Sound

Best-of-seven OHL Western Conference semifinal

Game 1: Tonight, 7:30 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre

Game 2: Tomorrow, 7:30 p.m. at Owen Sound


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