Hunter not afraid to tinker with Knights' early success

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 9:38 AM ET

Being 8-0-0-1 is the best makeup around to hide the blemishes and warts.

It would be understandable if followers of the London Knights didn't look that closely at a team that's off to such a sensational start. After all, what could be wrong with a team that hasn't lost in regulation time and leads the OHL in points?

I'm glad you asked.

The truth is, this is a very good hockey team . . . again.

Like last year, the Knights will ride special teams and a handful of players offensively all season. The supporting cast will be good enough to be competitive. They will get solid goaltending from Steve Mason and as long as he stays healthy, they won't have any issues there.

The first nine games have emphasized the Knights' strong points. They have also shown this team needs to add one more experienced blue-liner.

Shh, don't upset the apple cart.

When a team is winning, there's a lot to be said about leaving things as they are, especially when dealing with the fragile makeup of young players.

"We're always looking to improve our team," Knights general manager Mark Hunter said.

That's pretty much the standard response, which, translated means, "Of course, we're looking, but we're only going to make changes when the right player comes up and I don't want to upset anybody. As if I'm going to tell you I'm out looking to make a trade for a defenceman so someone can try and rip me off and the defencemen on my team right now will get ticked off. I'll make changes when I think the time is right."

I know that's a lot of translation from seven words, but that's what it means.

The talented Owen Sound Attack come to town tonight to play the Knights. The Attack have been tagged as an OHL title contender. They've won seven games despite top player Bobby Ryan getting off to a lousy start.

When the teams take to the ice, the chances are pretty good the Knights' blueline brigade will be different from the previous game. They'll dress their version of their Big Three, Todd Perry, Scott Aarssen and Ryan Martinelli and then rotate players like Kevin Bodker, Mike Noyes, Tony DeHart, Andrew Wilkins and Corey Syvret.

"We're trying to get those guys as much experience as possible," said Knights assistant coach Dave Gagner. "Later on we'll have a better idea of the group of players we're comfortable with."

Gagner wouldn't comment on whether he believes Hunter needs to go on a hunting expedition to round up another blueliner.

"We've been successful so far," he said. "Five of our guys don't have a lot of experience but they should get better.

"Would I be happy if in a few months we're playing like we're playing now? No but any coach would probably say the same thing. You expect players to improve."

The Knights have gotten a great start from Aarssen who is a plus-12 and Perry has provided some stability to the team. Of the young players, Tony DeHart, a seventh-round pick in last spring's OHL draft, has made big strides since the season began.

The Knights sport a gaudy record but they own that kind of record only because they've been bailed out by Mason and their offence several times. They give up too many good chances and the question remains just how well their young defencemen will stand up to a season-long pounding.

Hunter will go out and get a blueliner. The only question that remains is when he'll pull the trigger.

He knows the more you let warts grow, the tougher they are to get rid of.


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