Knights searching for answers

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 11:00 AM ET

GUELPH -- Through two games of the OHL's Western Conference final, the London Knights have spent much time pinned in their own end by the fast and fierce play of the Guelph Storm forwards.

Give some credit to 29-year-old Guelph assistant coach Jason Brooks, the former London Knights player whose forechecking approach is a major reason his old team was clubbed 7-1 in Game 2 on Friday night and outshot a combined 83-49 in the first two tilts.

Brooks' crew has London defensive coach Jacques Beaulieu searching for answers on how to get the puck up to the Knights' talented forwards in this series. Perhaps he'll find them in conversations they had as Team Ontario assistant coaches at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge over the Christmas holidays.

"Jason and I were roommates in Saskatchewan and we talked hockey together for 10 days," Beaulieu said. "He's a good teacher and he really cares about the kids. He's the kind of guy who would put the development of the players ahead of his own advancement and that's nice to see.

"But he's winning the battle right now."

The Guelph assistant, a Listowel native who played for the Cyclones of the Mid-Western Junior B Hockey League, still commutes from his hometown for games and practices and has a lot of time to think about strategies while he's driving to work.

"It's a great situation in Guelph and I can't ask for a better opportunity in working with (Storm head coach Dave Barr)," Brooks said. "I get to learn every day from the OHL coach of the year."

Brooks' enthusiasm isn't tempered by mundane tasks like breaking down game tape for endless hours. These days, he's just happy to be able to sit in a room and watch TV without experiencing excruciating pain.

Back in 1998, Brooks suffered the worst injury of his playing career while with the University of Waterloo Warriors -- a severe concussion that left him unable to concentrate and focus for long periods of time.

"It happened against Western -- (former Knight and now OHL director or recruitment and educational services) Joe Birch hit me," Brooks said. "It was a clean hit by Birchy but I was caught the wrong way. There was nerve damage and the doctor had to go through the back of my head to kill a nerve that was causing the problem. It's fine now. but I'm numb on the left side of my head. If you hit me there, I'd still feel it a little bit but not much."

As an OHL player, Brooks started in 1993-94 with a fine Ottawa team led by current Edmonton Oiler Mike Peca before heading to London and getting a close-up look at what it was like to lose. His first year with the Knights, the team had Jason Allison on board but still only managed 18 wins. His final season was the unforgettable 3-60-3 campaign in 1995-96.

As an alumnus, Brooks was happy to see London become the dominant team in the Canadian Hockey League last year, although he didn't enjoy watching his Storm get swept in the first round by the Knights.

"Knowing Branks (London trainer Don Brankley) as well as I do, I was happy for the organization because they hadn't won an OHL championship in 40 years and I know how badly they wanted one," Brooks said. "London loves its hockey. When I played for the Knights, we had bad teams and we still got 2,500 or 3,000 to the games. They deserve a good team."

But it's the job of this ex-Knight to make sure this year's team doesn't get any further than this West final.

So far, Brooks is doing a bang-up job.

LONDON VS. GUELPH

(Best-of-seven Western Conference final tied 1-1)

Game 3: Tonight, 6 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre

Game 4: Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. at the Guelph Sports and Entertainment Centre

Game 5: Friday, 7:30 p.m. at the JLC


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