Aarssen, Martinelli big plus for Knights

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 9:15 AM ET

They're no matched set. Ryan Martinelli is six-foot-five, 215 pounds.

Scott Aarssen is five-foot-11, about 195 pounds.

Martinelli is a physical presence on defence with long arms that would give Reed Richards, the comic book hero in the Fantastic Four, a run for his money. He's not the smoothest guy with the puck, but knows enough when he's in trouble to throw it over to Aarssen in a you-take-care-of-it fashion.

While Aarssen no longer considers himself an offensively oriented defenceman, he is able to handle the puck well enough to get it out of trouble.

The two London Knights have found a partnership that works. It's a partnership that goes back at least three years when they played with the junior B St. Thomas Stars.

"We're getting more comfortable together," Martinelli said. "We've played basically since in St. Thomas three years ago. We've been partners for a long time now and it's starting to show. We know where each is and where we're going to be."

That's reflected in the numbers and Aarssen seems to wind up with plus numbers. (That means a player is on the ice when his team scores a goal more often than when the opposition scores.)

Aarssen was a plus-three Sunday when the Knights beat the Brampton Battalion 7-5.

You can throw out the value of a plus-minus for a lousy team. No matter how good a player, if the team stinks, the plus-minus will equal the temperature in Flin Flon, Man., in January.

Aarssen plays on a good team, but that plus-3 Sunday is still impressive. While the Knights have a solid offence, they don't have a great deal of depth on the blue-line. Aarssen and Martinelli are one-two in the OHL in plus-minus. Aarssen is plus-15 and Martinelli is plus-11.

Again impressive numbers because the Knights work the two of them harder than mules in a rock quarry. When the other team's top line hops on the ice, Martinelli and Aarssen usually play against it.

"The pressure is on us a little more," Aarssen said. "We're expected to shut down the other team's top line every night. It's pressure, but it's also an honour. Nothing makes me feel better than shutting down the Bobby Ryans of this league for an entire night."

Martinelli sees the weekly stats "and I'm happy, yeah. Plus-minus is one of the most important stats for a defenceman. I'm not too caught up in goals and points."

Aarssen is aware plus-minus is a team statistic.

"I'm playing with Marty a lot and we've been playing well defensively," Aarssen said. "The forwards are playing good defensive hockey as well. They're getting back and not allowing three-on-twos. And (goaltender Steve) Mason is playing really well right now."

The Knights are going to rely on this pair a great deal. Management will eventually make a deal for another defenceman, but until then, it will say a prayer or two that neither of these two break down.

The Knights played Friday at home against Owen Sound and Sunday in Brampton. Tonight they play the Rangers in Kitchener before taking on the Sarnia Sting Friday night at the John Labatt Centre, then travelling to Barrie on Saturday.

"So far, I'm getting used to it," Aarssen said. "You have to learn how to play, conserve your energy out there, know when to go all out and when to play a little more conservatively."

Martinelli is getting more ice time than he ever has as a Knight. His style is more crash and bang.

"The other weekend we played three games in three days. I noticed the kind of ice time we were getting, which made me think I needed to work a little more on my conditioning so I can be as good in the third game as in the first period," Martinelli said.

There's a plus and a minus to everything.

Martinelli and Aarssen usually play against the other teams' top lines.

But the Knights coaching staff likes to match best against best, which leaves Martinelli and Aarssen playing with guys like Pat Kane, David Meckler and Sam Gagner.

That's a plus. Make that several pluses.


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