Davis making most of second chance

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:42 AM ET

As Joni Mitchell sang, "Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got till it's gone . . . "

Matt Davis didn't know what he had until it was gone and he's determined to get it back.

A week into training camp, he is on his way to earning a spot with the London Knights. Last season, he was sent home because of repeated off-ice problems. If he makes it all the way back, he will provide an element the Knights need -- a tough winger who can put up some points.

The Hamilton native was picked in the fifth round of the 2004 OHL draft. The Knights liked his combination of toughness and skill.

But they weren't pleased by his habits off the ice.

"I wasn't playing hockey, I wasn't doing what I wanted to be doing," he said. "There were so many other things going on, all the excitement. I wasn't at home, I had so much freedom. I was young, I found myself in trouble. I learned from it, I know what not to do now."

Davis might have been able to fight off the temptations available to a junior player if he'd been playing. But his season started badly, separating a shoulder in training camp and missing two months. He played six games with the Knights with a goal and 19 penalty minutes. He spent most of his time with the junior B London Nationals.

Then, after Christmas, he got into a fight, not an unusual occurrence. This time though, the fight would end badly. His helmet came off and he lost his balance, hitting his head on the ice, fracturing his skull.

"I bruised the front of my brain and had internal bleeding," he recalled yesterday.

A month after the injury, the Knights sent him home.

"There are rules and he didn't follow them," said Knights general manager Mark Hunter. "We tried to straighten things out, but couldn't.

"Sometimes all you need is a wake-up call."

Message delivered and received.

"It was tough sitting at home," Davis said. "I missed curfew a few times and stuff like that. The injuries had something to do with it. I had to watch a lot of hockey instead of playing a lot of hockey, which is tough. It's nice to know that with everything that's happened, I can come back and stick this time, hopefully make it work."

He couldn't play with his injury, so it was easier to send him home than it would have been if he'd been putting up big points. But the Knights wanted to make sure he got the message for this season.

"They called me. They were very communicative. They told me they wanted me back. They just said, 'You know what needs to happen.' "

He's had a strong camp and stayed clean off the ice. He was one of the last players to arrive at yesterday's practice because he was in school.

"We like him," Hunter said. "He's a kid who has skills and likes to hit and get involved. He's done well."

Davis is one of the few familiar faces in the dressing room. Seven Knights have gone to pro camps. Ex-Knights Dylan Hunter, Corey Perry, Danny Syvret, David Bolland, Kelly Thomson and others are skating with the team, but will be headed to their camps by the end of the week.

The defending OHL Western Conference champions are undergoing a major overhaul this season.

"There are a lot of new faces in here," Dylan Hunter said. "You really won't be able to tell the players without a program."

Davis is clear about his role with all the new faces. Despite the changes in the way hockey is played, his is a role every team needs to fill.

"I can put a few points up, put a few pucks in the net (and) I don't mind getting into the rough stuff . . . protect the guys on the team.

"My goal is the NHL draft this summer. If I put up some points and a couple of good fights, I got a shot."

Davis is hungry, which is good for himself and the team.

"I knew what I missed . . . when you sit and watch everyone else play . . . it's a lot harder. I was sitting and watching and thinking, 'I should be out there, not here.' "

It's what the Knights had hoped to hear.


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