There were plenty of subplots on display when the London Knights and Kitchener Rangers went toe-to-toe in a marathon shootout last night at the John Labatt Centre.
The Knights eventually won the game 5-4 (and the shootout 2-1), but both teams nearly emptied their benchs in a breakways contest that took 11 rounds and 22 shooters to decide.
The back-and-forth dramatics of the latest round of the Knights-Rangers rivalry was everything Londoner Nazem Kadri had hoped for when he joined Kitchener for his rookie OHL season.
"I had butterflies in my stomach (when the bus pulled into the arena)," said Kadri, who just turned 16 last week. "I have family here and quite a few friends from my old school (Lucas secondary). It's a real thrill to play in the John Labatt Centre again. I played a few games here with the Junior Knights."
But nothing that compared to the drama of last night's contest. Kadri, donning Kitchener sweater No. 19, which belonged to last year's top scorer Evan McGrath and was once worn proudly by Seaforth native Boyd Devereaux, had a chance to provide his team with a shootout win but struggled on his attempt and failed to get a clean shot away at London goalie Steve Mason.
Kadri had been credited with his first OHL goal Friday against Sarnia and waved to his usual contingent of travelling family members in the stands at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium.
"He's been good; he's been what we expected," Kitchener head coach Peter DeBoer said. "When you keep picking late in the first round like we have or London has in the past few years, guys like (Sarnia's Steve) Stamkos aren't available, so when you get a quality player with a late pick, you have to be happy."
Kadri has logged some important ice time as the Rangers try to get some scoring from someone other than Matt Halischuk, who was the only player to beat Mason yesterday.
Fellow Londoner Adam Zamec, who like Halischuk had demanded a trade from Toronto in the off-season, went with the direct approach in the shootout by trying to blast the puck past Mason. It didn't work and neither did West Lorne native Justin Azevedo's deke attempt.
"Mason's big and he's a right-handed glove, so you have to approach the shootout differently than you normally would," Halischuk said.
While Mason was fending off the Rangers, the OHL's leading scorer, Sam Gagner, kept his team alive in the shootout by undressing Kitchener goalie John Murray on a gorgeous display of puck play. Gagner knows Murray from their United States Hockey League days last year when the new Knight star was with Sioux City, Iowa, and the puckstopper was in Sioux Falls, S.D.
As the shootout wore on, London head coach Dale Hunter decided to go with a defenceman and chose Lucan native Mike Noyes in the 10th round. Like so many others, he missed. But Hasani went next and ended it.