Knights' path to success set in minor hockey

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:21 AM ET

In plenty of ways, the guys called upon to lead the offensive charge on behalf of the London Knights are mature beyond their years.

Playoff pressure? They've been doing it three-fourths of their lives, so tonight's playoff opener against the Owen Sound Attack is just another chance for scorers such as David Bolland and Rob Schremp to step up and do what they've been doing each spring since they first wobbled out on skates.

Bolland remembers the baggy jersey and too-large skates in Mimico. Schremp recalls the long road trips with the rest of the peewees in Syracuse.

They both knew then, as they do now, they must continue doing what they do well in the hotter playoff crucible.

As always, the most pivotal role falls to Knights goaltending Oscar-winner Adam Dennis. But if Bolland, Schremp and Dylan Hunter fail to turn on the light, whatever little miracles Dennis is able to fashion between the pipes could become an afterthought.

The scorers have to score. And they have to score against a team that has seen enough of them live and on tape to have their tendencies down pat.

In other words, they have to do more than they did while running at the head of the OHL scoring pack during the regular season to create as much impact.

But they've been doing this a long time. None was ever out of the playoffs in minor hockey and all have a wealth of OHL playoff experience, with the run to the Memorial Cup championship standing as a sort of junior hockey doctoral thesis.

You wonder, now that they stand on the threshold of what ought to be distinguished NHL careers, if they even recall much about their early minor years. They do.

Bolland's first year, he was coached to the playoffs by Detroit Red Wing Brendan Shanahan's brother, Brian.

"I knew I couldn't skate very well," he laughed. "And that everything I had on was about eight sizes too big. Nothing fit me."

Schremp remembers big trips with his elite Syracuse teams to games as far away as Philadelphia.

"We played all over," he recalled. "The playoffs were against Buffalo, Long Island, Albany and places like that and then it was the nationals. I became used to playoff situations."

His first year of OHL playoffs was brief. Schremp was with Mississauga then and was bounced by a concussion after a game and a half against Ottawa 67's when he ran into Adam Smith's elbow.

Bolland's OHL playoff introduction was a heated series against Windsor and such current NHLers Tim Gleason and Kyle Wellwood.

"It was valuable watching how those guys and our guys, like Danny Bois, (were) going hard for us. You saw the value of hard work."

Work. It's a word not thrown around lightly in the Knights' dressing room.

"The deeper you get in the playoffs, the harder it is to score," Schremp said. "It's all about hard work in the playoffs, then skill takes over. Hard work sounds like a cliche. But you have to turn it up a notch, then get creative. I like the pressure situations. And this series is a pressure series. We get through this one, we're going to be good."

They are marked men , but here is no fear. It has always been this way. They have to score no matter what.

"It's expected of you; you have to do it every night," Bolland said. "It gets tougher. Like Corey Perry last year, he was expected to produce and he did. Same with Schrempy and Dylan and me this year."

It started for them all three-quarters of a lifetime ago. Tonight is nothing new.


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