8 OHL teams can feel good about themselves

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 11:48 AM ET

This is the most tempting and trying time to be an OHL player.

The season is running into its eighth month, the weather's rapidly improving and the aches and pains of game after game begin to catch up to even the most indestructible teenaged bodies. By the middle of the second round, winning and surviving become interchangeable.

"In a city like London, there's so many distractions and so much stuff to do out there, but this team wants to keep it going," said top scorer Rob Schremp. "We're in this to win and after the big one (on Wednesday to tie Owen Sound at 2-2 in the Western Conference semifinal), it's a brand new series. It's back to zero. A best-of-three with two games in our rink."

There's always a point in a hard-fought series like this Knights-Attack set when each player asks himself: "Do I really want that loose puck and risk having my face rammed into the glass by Theo Peckham or would I rather start enjoying my summer vacation?" You can do both, said Knights head coach.

"If it's good weather and you're still playing, that means you're doing pretty well," Dale Hunter said. "It's always been like that. You start with 20 teams and now we're down to eight. You feel pretty good if you're still playing now."

It would be easy for a guy like Sergei Kostitsyn, who misses his family a million miles away in Belarus, to pack it in and say it's been a good run. But the slick Montreal Canadiens draft pick has poured in five goals in four games against Owen Sound to help make up for the absence of suspended David Bolland and injured Jordan Foreman.

"It would definitely be hard on a guy like Sergei, but we're a tight-knit team in this dressing room and we're not planning on going anywhere right now," said forward Robbie Drummond, who has added four goals in eight playoff games. "There's a different feeling this year. Last year, we knew with the team we had we weren't going to lose very many games. We already knew we were going to be in the (Memorial) Cup.

"This year, we finished first again but there were teams who gave us trouble. We know it's more competitive and teams can beat us if we're not playing at our best."

If your best isn't there, you have to find other ways. London played its first must-win game in over two years on Wednesday night and still had enough passion to get the win.

The Knights still needed goalie Adam Dennis to play like a brick wall, but by standing tall, they feel good about themselves and think they took something out of the Attack's game.

"When the bell rang, we basically had half a team and dominated a game we had to win," Schremp said.

"That has to have an effect. Against a tough team like Owen Sound, you don't want to go down 3-1. We had guys step up and play some of their best hockey of the year. That's what you need at this time of year."

Of course, all that good feeling could be quickly erased tonight if London allows Owen Sound star Bobby Ryan to run all over them like he did in Game 2.

On Wednesday, the Knights played the body on Ryan and were successful in knocking him off stride.

"He really only got us that one game where he scored three goals (in Game 2)," said Knights defenceman Matt Pelech. "I thought we've done a pretty good job on him."

In addition to stopping Ryan, London also has to get Schremp going in the goal-scoring department. The Knights star has yet to beat Attack goalie Michael Ouzas in the series.

"I'll take an empty-netter right now," Schremp said. "If I get one, I'm going to dive head-first into the boards. I'm going to go crazy."

THE FIVE KEYS TO WINNING

London and Owen Sound are busily preparing game plans for the rest of their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal matchup, which is tied 2-2. Game 5 goes at 7:30 p.m. tonight at the JLC. Here's a look at what both teams have to do to win the series.

LONDON

5. Shut down Bobby Ryan and Andrej Sekera. The Attack feed off the play of their big captain and swift-skating offensive defenceman.

4. Screen Michael Ouzas. The OHL's 2005 goalie of the year has proven human when there are skates, sticks and legs in his face.

3. Kill every penalty. When the Knights let the Attack score on the power play, they water down the effects of their own man-advantage machine.

2. Secondary scoring. Robbie Drummond and Jamie VanderVeeken must continue to light the lamp with David Bolland and Jordan Foreman out.

1. Get Rob Schremp a goal. Would anyone believe the Knights could win a playoff series without a tally from this talented shooter?

OWEN SOUND

5. Keep an aggressive penalty kill. If you sit back in a passive box, you play into London's hands and surrender momentum.

4. Win the one-on-one battles. Owen Sound lost Game 4 because it didn't want to pay the physical price. The Attack didn't win six playoff games so far by being fancy.

3. Irritate Adam Dennis. The London goalie doesn't like bodies in his crease and is prone to taking the odd penalty to prove it.

2. Play Bobby Ryan more. Owen Sound coach Mike Stothers likes to roll his lines, but there's no sense in resting his best player now. Play him Schremp-like minutes.

1. Take advantage of the banged-up Knights. If Owen Sound doesn't win games with David Bolland and Jordan Foreman out of the London lineup, how on earth can they win when those two come back?


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