Next year's Knights face big changes

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 12:51 PM ET

Dale Hunter will be wearing his familiar tan jacket behind the London Knights bench again next year.

The 45-year-old Petrolia native, whose Knights were swept by the Peterborough Petes in the OHL final, will return for a sixth year in 2006-07 overseeing a much different team.

But Hunter will have to operate without astute assistant Jacques Beaulieu, who has accepted a head coaching position with the Saint John, N.B., Sea Dogs of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League.

Hunter also won't have the luxury of playing three star players for 15 of 20 minutes in the third period of a crucial game, as he did with son and captain Dylan Hunter, top scorer Rob Schremp and David Bolland Thursday night in Peterborough.

"The younger guys learned and improved, but the older guys carried the load," Dale Hunter said. "We lost our first four games and were blown out 8-1 in Owen Sound. But we ended up first in the league and the kids worked hard all year. You can't fault the effort. They could've came out (in Game 4 against Peterborough) and given up, but they never quit. We had a great chance to tie it at the end."

Dylan Hunter hopes to join the Buffalo Sabres organization, Schremp is moving up with the Edmonton Oilers and Bolland expects to sign with the Chicago Blackhawks soon.

Graduating Adam Dennis, who was the OHL's top puckstopper this year and the league's winningest goalie, will undergo minor surgery in the next week to repair his injured left knee.

The Knights have put their faith in 17-year-old Steve Mason, who was stellar in relief during a pressure-filled Game 4 of the OHL final.

"I'm looking forward to coming back next year and grabbing the reins as the No. 1 goalie of the Knights," Mason said. "I learned a lot from Adam. He would pass on tips every once in a while and I appreciated that."

With a big chunk of their offensive power gone, London is hoping Belarus native Sergei Kostitsyn, who beat Oshawa phenom John Tavares for the rookie scoring title by one point, will return to the lineup next year. The 19-year-old doesn't have to come back because he was drafted by the NHL's Montreal Canadiens before he was picked by the Knights in last year's CHL import draft.

"Sergei has one more year (of junior) and we hope to have him back, because we expect him to be in the top of the scoring (race)," London GM Mark Hunter said.

London likely will wait till September to name its three over-agers. Eligible players are Kris Belan, Trevor Kell, Robbie Drummond, David Halasz, Jamie VanderVeeken and Ryan Martinelli. Schremp and Bolland are also in that mix, but the chances of them returning are remote.

If Kostitsyn doesn't return, Jordan Foreman, who scored 29 times this year, and Adam Perry will have to fill the net. Philadelphia prospect Josh Beaulieu will have to perform a physical role and Calgary Flames first-rounder Matt Pelech and steady Scott Aarssen must anchor defence.

"There's a lot of scoring and character that will be gone and there are a lot of minutes (of ice time) that different guys are going to have to step up and take," Knights rookie forward Matt Clarke said.

The wild card will be Mark Hunter's efforts to convince talented 2004 draft picks Pat Kane and Kevin Montgomery, and 2005 fourth-rounder Sam Gagner, to report.

Kane visited the John Labatt Centre during the playoffs and has been described as a player with the ability to become a big-time scorer in the OHL.

It would also help London's cause if 2006 first-rounder Philip McRae joined the team and 2005 first-rounder Corey Syvret jumped into a more regular role on the blue-line.


Videos

Photos