OHL heavyweight bout

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:51 AM ET

In a season OHL commissioner David Branch hailed as one of "significant cultural change," the last two teams skating are the defending champs and a club well known for its rich, storied hockey tradition.

The London Knights, looking for a second straight Ontario Hockey League crown, and the Peterborough Petes, who are back in the league final for the 13th time in 50 years, clash tonight for the first time since the two teams started their March 2 regular-season contest with four consecutive fights in eight seconds at the Peterborough Memorial Centre.

Despite the two-game suspensions given to the head coaches and the expected crackdown on infractions, players on both sides haven't ruled out a repeat.

Each team holds a healthy dislike for the other, in large part because London spoiled Peterborough's march for the OHL regular season title by winning both head-to-head tilts with the Petes. London finished on top of the league by three points and it can be argued those two games gave the Knights home-ice advantage in this series.

"We don't play them much and I think a little bit of it is fuelled (by the media), but that's great. It gets everyone excited," London captain Dylan Hunter said. "When we played them, first place in the league was on the line. It's a great matchup. It's our big rink (the John Labatt Centre) against their small rink. They're like a machine with a lot of depth and we like to think we have three solid lines we can put out there against them."

It isn't often the top two teams in a league end up facing off in a hockey final. Just look at the NHL, where the top four seeds in the Western Conference were bounced from the first round of the playoffs.

London head coach Dale Hunter expects a memorable series and doesn't see much difference between his Knights and the Dick Todd-coached Petes.

"It's the top two teams in the league and that's the way it should be," Hunter said. "You hate to put a lot of pressure on the goaltenders, but with teams like these, it'll probably come down to a big save. We have Adam (Dennis) and they have a top-end goalie," in David Shantz.

Both goalies have faced off in an OHL final before, with Dennis's Guelph Storm sweeping Shantz's Mississauga IceDogs two years ago.

The Knights have been stellar at home with a 7-1 record in the playoffs, but Peterborough has been better at 8-0.

Both teams have deep NHL roots. Perry's older brother, Corey, skates for Anaheim and Sergei Kostitsyn's sibling plays for Montreal, while Peterborough's Jordan Staal had bragging rights that brother Eric's Carolina Hurricanes eliminated teammate Daniel Ryder's brother, Michael, of the Canadiens, in the Stanley Cup chase.

Adam Perry, who grew up in Peterborough, knows more about the Petes than a lot of their current roster. His grandmother and aunt used to board the team's players, including Jason Dawe, whose single-season playoff assist record of 33 in 1993 was just matched by London's Rob Schremp.

The Knights have been accused of diving to draw penalties, but they feel the Petes do it just as much as they do.

"You always want power plays, but you never want the reputation of being called divers," Perry said. "I can only remember us being called for it twice this year."

London hasn't steamrolled into the OHL final the way they did last year, but these Knights are a lot different than last year's team.

"We've been considered underdogs this year and no one expected us to make a solid run like this," Dylan Hunter said. "Us and the Petes both have the will to win and the ability to pull out games late. When you get to overtime, you have to make good on your chances. When you get a power play, you better score. When you have a shot, it better be a good one."

The Knights are 5-0 in playoff overtimes and the Petes are the only team above them at 6-0, including three extra- session wins in the Eastern Conference final. Though much of the game plan against London focuses on the power play, Todd feels there's more to watch beneath that surface.

"They have some hidden gems," he said. "Everybody always talks about their power play and those guys are always the ones who get credit. But I think they are more than that."

London respects Peterborough's effort and knows the Petes' collection of forwards are going to give the Knights a tough time, especially in their own end.

"Maybe they're not as pretty . . . but their way can be just as effective," said Dylan Hunter. "They have some guys who can pass the puck and they try to get it to the front of the net."

KNIGHTWATCH

London vs. Peterborough

(Best-of-seven OHL final)

Game 1: Tonight, 7:30, John Labatt Centre

Game 2: Sunday, 4:30 p.m., Peterborough Memorial Centre

BY THE NUMBERS

LONDON VS. PETERBOROUGH

Regular season: Knights (49-15-1-3, 102 points, 304 goals for, 211 goals against); Petes (47-16-2-3, 99 points, 269 GF, 199 GA).

Playoffs: Knights (12-3 record, 5-0 in overtime); Petes (12-3 record, 6-0 in overtime).

Leading scorers: Knights: Rob Schremp, five goals, 38 points, Sergei Kostitsyn, 12 goals, 32 points; Petes: Daniel Ryder, 11 goals, 24 points, Patrick Kaleta, 6 goals, 15 points.

Goalies: Knights: Adam Dennis (12-3, 3.02 GAA, 0.925 save percentage); Petes: David Shantz (12-3, 2.56 GAA, 0.926 save percentage).

Playoff home records: London (7-1); Peterborough (8-0).

Road records: London (5-2); Peterborough (4-3).

Power play (goals-chances): London, 29-116, 25 per cent; Peterborough, 27-110, 24.6 per cent.

Penalty killing (goals-total short-handed): London, 23-130, 82.3 per cent; Peterborough, 26-118, 78 per cent.


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