A silver lining to ban on Bolland

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:20 AM ET

On the surface, the notion is preposterous: That the four-game suspension to London Knights star forward David Bolland was a positive thing.

Oh, sure, a temporary hearing loss is a good thing to take to the symphony and an absence of touch is a big plus for a safecracker, too.

When Bolland was suspended by the Ontario Hockey League after it felt he kicked an Owen Sound Attack player intentionally, the league effectively sidelined a third of the team's offence. The magician from Mimico had scored 11 of London's 32 playoff goals to that point.

That swift kick in the goals almost sent the Hunter brothers' collective blood pressure off the scale. A lot of changes were required, mid-series.

But some things happen for reasons that only emerge, as Sherlock Holmes would say, in the fullness of time.

Severe as Bolland's ban was, it created a response in the team and the player himself that might not otherwise have been possible.

First, the rest of the Knights had to cover up the large dent left by Bolland's absence.

They did, with Robbie Drummond performing admirably.

Second, the coaching staff got some unexpected additional insights into their roster.

Thirdly, the players gained some confidence in themselves by knocking off the Attack in six games -- despite the hit to the franchise represented by the Bolland ban.

And Bolland -- well, he never played four games as tough as the last four games he didn't play. The Chicago Blackhawks draft pick uses his hockey stick the way an orchestra conductor uses his baton and the music had suddenly stopped. This guy has the kind of artistry that needs constant fulfilment.

But Bolland is wise enough in the ways of sports to extract some positives from a negative situation. He doesn't hesitate to tell you he feels a bit ripped off about having missed four games' worth of scoring chances -- but he can view the larger picture, as well.

There was a certain timeliness to the suspension. He'll make his return against the Guelph Storm in the OHL semifinals here Thursday, rested and keen to pick up where he left off.

This season has been much longer for Bolland than for most juniors. Tons of ice time with the Knights, duty with Canada at the world junior championship, the all-star game and two games in the Canada-Russia series have taken a bit of a toll.

"Actually, the rest has been valuable," Bolland said before skating yesterday -- the only front-liner required to be at an optional practice. "It's been a lot of hockey this year. That Russian-Canada series (part of five games in six nights) -- by the end I just wanted off the ice and not talk to anybody."

Even coach Dale Hunter admits there is an upside to Bolland's time off.

"I sure didn't see it that way when he was out, but now that we've advanced and he's back, he'll be more fresh," Hunter said.

It is a series in which they'll need the kind of scoring Bolland can produce, especially if linemate Rob Schremp continues to be snake-bitten in that area. A team has to make good on its chances against a team like Guelph.

You could call this series the rubber match of playoff sets after the teams split in their last two playoffs. Guelph won two years ago, backed by the superb netminding of Adam Dennis -- moving the Knights to trade for him -- and the Knights swept the Storm four straight last spring en route to winning the Memorial Cup.

Bolland was around for both series. "Adam was with Guelph and was their best player when they beat us in that series," Bolland said.

Now, Dennis is with the Knights. And so, his sentence up, is a rested Bolland.


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