Knights rookie off to fast start

ERIC BENDER -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:54 AM ET

When Tillsonburg-area farm boy Luke VanMoerkerke was drafted by the London Knights 13th in the sixth round in the spring of 2005, his junior C coach described him as a diamond in the rough.

Just how polished the Knights want him to be is a matter of degree now that he's started his rookie season in the OHL, his third in junior hockey. He was still 14 when he began playing with the Norwich Junior C Merchants of the Niagara West league.

Knights general manager Mark Hunter likes the fact that "he's a big strong kid with lots of character and an everyday work ethic."

"He came in to training camp and hasn't missed a beat. He doesn't cheat you," Hunter said.

VanMoerkerke, just 16 after spending last season with the junior B Thorold Blackhawks, where he had a bit of a disappointing term, supplied much of the grit while his linemates displayed the polish in the Knights opening game last Friday with the Saginaw Spirit. With team captain Robbie Drummond at centre and Adam Perry on right wing, the trio had a 10-point night. VanMoerkerke scored a goal and he and Perry had three points each. Drummond was the scoring hero with two goals.

"I'm playing with the captain and an assistant captain," VanMoerkerke said. "My job is to get up and down the wing. They are skilled. They make things happen so I don't have to be overly creative. I go to the net to make things happen."

VanMoerkerke, at six-foot- three and 205 pounds, was a promising quarterback/defensive back with the Tillsonburg Gemini.

"I had good (football) years in Grade 9 and 10," he said. "By the time you get to junior B, you don't have time for that any more."

Hockey was his chosen sport and it was "easy" to sign with the Knights and pursue the OHL route. He's taking his Grade 12 at Saunders secondary school in London.

His aim now is to "work hard and earn as much ice time as I can."

Although he has an ample frame, VanMoerkerke worked hard all summer strengthening it. In July, he worked on the farm with his father and in August began more specific training for the hockey season.

His year in Thorold was brought about by the new Hockey Canada rules about the use of 16-year-olds (each team now can carry only two) and the question of what teams were already committed to specific players.

"Thorold called me. I didn't call them. They were the defending Sutherland Cup champions, so what could I say?" he said.

VanMoerkerke started last season slowly. "There was a coaching change mid-season and after the change things went better. I did pretty good in the playoffs. I wasn't really happy with my season."

But he's pleased with the start to this season and looking forward to the Knights second game of the season tonight against Owen Sound.

Hunter said the Attack will have a fresh squad this year with three first-round draft choices in the lineup.

"They are a talented hockey club," he said.


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