U.S. star could light Knights' way down the road

JIM KERNAGHAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 1:31 PM ET

The bumpy road ahead envisioned by some Knights fans might not be as rocky as people think.

Not the immediate road, which takes them to their second straight OHL final against the Peterborough Petes starting next week.

No, the road that usually has dips for junior hockey teams. One guy could change that from a deep one to a relatively shallow one.

Among the customary 9,090 fans at the John Labatt Centre for Knights' exciting 5-4 overtime victory last night was a young fellow who could change that dramatically. Knights' draft pick Patrick Kane, who led the U.S. under-18 team to the world title a couple of weeks ago, kept his intentions close to the vest, but sounded impressed about his third visit to the JLC.

He picked a good night to visit. The Knights survived a rash of penalties, curious bounces and their own miscues to put together a stirring comeback, culminating with a terrific overtime pace to turn back the hard-working Storm.

"The atmosphere here is tremendous," the Buffalo native said. "Everything is first class. This is the only place I would play in the OHL."

That isn't arrogance. It's that his parents can get to games readily. They've followed his career since he was scoring 1.5 goals a game as a tot.

A future Knight? The five-foot-10, 160-pound centre is in a sort of no-man's land. He's a few high school credits short of college eligibility and will be too old (he turns 18 Nov. 19) to remain with the U.S. under-18 squad in Ann Arbor, Mich.

The Knights feel there is a 50-50 chance he'll report. If he does, word around hockey is that his pals, fellow Knight draft choices Kevin Montgomery, also with the U.S. under-18 team, and Sam Gagner of USHL's Sioux City would follow. Gagner is son of former NHLer Dave Gagner of Chatham.

Kane says he's spoken to Montgomery, a Rochester, N.Y., native, about the Knights and future Memorial Cup potential. Montgomery, a defenceman, made a verbal commitment to Ohio State but it's not binding.

Knights general manager Mark Hunter's eyes sparkle when he speaks of Kane.

"He led all scorers at the world under-18. He's got it all."

Kane, who's had Gretzky-like numbers from minor hockey on, had seven goals and 12 points in five games at the worlds.

Junior hockey traditionally is a series of peaks and valleys due to the short turnaround in graduating players. More than one person predicted a fall in the Knights' fortunes this season after winning the franchise's first Memorial Cup last spring. Even more saw a descent into mediocrity next season with the heart of their scoring -- Rob Schremp, David Bolland and Dylan Hunter -- gone.

Career decisions turn on a lot of things. Location, location, location, the watchword of real estate, might come into play in Kane's case.

His parents try to get to most of his games. His father doesn't like to fly. A matter of 34 home games and many more away games within a reasonable drive of Buffalo has to be considered a Knights positive.

So does the coaching of Dale Hunter, whose reputation for helping each player reach his potential within a clearly defined team role has become well known.

For now, the Knights are concerned with the present. They have not lost sight of another berth in the Memorial Cup, in Moncton, N.B., next month.

But as always, the guys in charge have an eye to the future, as well. They're trying to avoid that bumpy road.


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