The London Knights look like shootout stars again this season and Sam Gagner thinks he knows why.
"Dale (head coach Dale Hunter) likes to practise it a lot and half the time, I think it's because he likes to take breakaways himself," said Gagner, a 17-year- old rookie forward, who capped a four-point night by burying the winner in a 6-5 shootout victory over the powerhouse Owen Sound Attack before 9,090 spectators last night at the John Labatt Centre.
"We do work on it, so we're prepared for it when it happens. This team lost a lot of big guns who were good in the shootout, but we have guys here who are pretty good at it, too."
Gagner, Pat Kane and Sergei Kostitsyn scored on London's three chances on Owen Sound goalie Russ Brownell. Knights goalie Steve Mason, who kicked aside 44 shots, surrendered shootout deke goals to Bobby Ryan and Trevor Lewis, but robbed Attack rookie Wayne Simmonds with a sparkling glove save.
"The first two, they scored on the forehand, so I thought they might try something different on me there," Mason said. "Owen Sound is picked to be a strong team this year and our guys showed character in this win. As a goalie, I like seeing 50 shots a game, especially early in the season.
"It would be nice to have a game where there's not that many shots, but this early you're still pretty fresh."
Simmonds, 18, said he saw Mason cheating toward the right side where Ryan and Lewis scored.
"It was probably the second penalty shot I took in my life," he said. "I got him moving, but he just got over and made a great glove save."
London caught a break in the final two minutes of the third period when defenceman Ryan Martinelli knocked a puck over the glass with his stick in his own end.
There wasn't a delay of game penalty assessed on the play and the Attack weren't happy about it.
"It was a penalty," Owen Sound head coach Mike Stothers said. "A two-minute minor. It wasn't deflected. It was in the air and he batted it over the glass. That's it. There's no recourse. The only thing that happens is I get fined (for criticizing the officiating)."
London and its fans weren't altogether excited about the referees' work early in the game when a parade of Knights to the penalty box staked Owen Sound to a 4-2 lead in the second period. Early on, it's easy to predict both teams will be among the league leaders with the man advantage.
London went three-for-nine on the powerplay while Owen Sound finished four-of-11.
"We fell behind there and took some penalties but give this team credit, we kept battling back," Gagner said. "You better when you're playing in front of 9,000 people every night. Everyone's picking Owen Sound this year to be one of the top teams but I think we proved something here. We were in it all the way and then won the shootout."
London veteran Adam Perry forced the extra entertainment with his second power-play goal of the game with 4:36 left in the third period. With David Bolland and Rob Schremp gone, the 19-year-old Peterborough native is making a case to become the Knights' clutch goal-scorer.
"They still send out the five forwards on the powerplay and they have some dangerous, skilled guys like Kane and Gagner," Stothers said.
Owen Sound's top line of captain Bobby Ryan, Trevor Lewis and Anton Hedman -- all NHL draft picks -- is an early selection to be the OHL's most dominant line. London defenceman Scott Aarssen, who was plus-four in the season-opening win over Saginaw, drew the assignment of checking big Ryan and survived the task, including some inspired shifts late in the game.
Though Ryan was disappointed to be sent back to junior hockey from the Anaheim Mighty Ducks this week, talented newcomer Lewis was one of the happiest guys to see him back in Owen Sound.
"It played a big part in my decision (to join the Attack)," the 19-year-old forward from Murray, Utah said. "We got to know each other at the U.S. world junior training camp in Lake Placid (N.Y.) this summer. We played together on a line for a while and had some pretty good chemistry. I thought how great it would be to play with him a whole season."
London GM Mark Hunter acted as a coach as Dale Hunter served the end of his two-game suspension for Matt Davis leaving the bench to fight in a pre-season tilt against Windsor. The Knights head coach will be back in action tonight in Erie.
The Knights have picked up 18-year-old goalie Stephane Cesar, a six-foot-three, 165-pound puckstopper from Gatineau, Que., who played for Rouyn-Noranda in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season. He served as backup to Mason last night.