Knights must step up in time of need

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:31 AM ET

It was the toughest game David Bolland never played.

The London Knights super-scorer watched on television in the coaches' room as his mates fell 4-3 to the Owen Sound Attack last night to trail two games to one in their best-of-seven series.

"It wasn't easy," said Bolland, suspended four games by the OHL for kicking Owen Sound's Mike Angelidis with an out-of-character backward snap of his skate in a second-period melee Saturday night in Owen Sound.

It wasn't easy for his teammates or his coaches, either. Bolland's 11 goals accounted for a third of London's scoring in the playoffs.

But this is what playoff hockey is about. Teams have gone through these untimely setbacks since time immemorial. They deal with it in different ways but mostly, the successful ones get the rest of the troops to dig a little deeper than they thought they could.

"There was a loss of firepower, a loss of penalty killing, a loss of leadership," captain Dylan Hunter said of Bolland's absence. "Now, people have to step up, including myself."

You don't excise an asset like Bolland from the roster and expect to fill the void readily. You just deal with it as a team must in the playoffs, relieved it's four games as the result of an ill-advised reaction rather than four weeks as the result of an injury.

Naturally, the Knights leadership believes their guy got an excessive sentence from a league that does not favour them. Whether or not that's how they really feel after seeing the replays, it's the standard response for public consumption and for the players to mull over now that they've fallen behind the hard-working Attack.

There are few greater allies in sports than the notion everyone is against you and it's you against the world -- "everyone's agin us, guys, let's show 'em."

OK Knights, the time has come to put some of that to work. They didn't last night, with a power play that should have clicked better than it did, despite Bolland's absence.

Give credit to the Attack, who took the game to the Knights and made the guys who have custody of the Memorial Cup look rather ordinary.

From Bobby Baun scoring on a broken ankle to a legion of players performing on nerve and novocaine, debilitating situations often get glossed over by extra will and imagination.

To that extent, the Bolland boot might eventually be translated into an asset, one that can pay dividends. Athletes at all levels are surprised they can always reach a little farther than they thought possible.

It's a bit of a kick in the pants to the Knights, obviously, but for those who can glean some positives out of negatives, Bolland's suspension presents a team such as the defending champions an opportunity to grow a little, step up, as the captain said.

The view here is all the stars would have to be in sync and Owen Sound goaltending pretty air-tight for the Attack to have a serious shot at this series, despite their current lead in games. The disparity in individual talent is too great.

Had the guys in green got some bounces in the first period, they could have taken a three-zip lead into the second and considerable command, rather than a 1-0 edge going into the third.

Yes, yes, the Attack upset the Kitchener Rangers a series earlier, but this is a different proposition. Even without Bolland, the Knights have too much.

Now, all they have to do is prove it, beginning tomorrow night in Owen Sound.


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