Hunter stresses 1-on-1 battles

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:07 AM ET

For a long time, Dale Hunter has viewed hockey as a series of one-on-one battles for control of the puck.

Though practices and game strategies are often aimed at creating scoring chances out of odd-man situations, the London Knights head coach feels it's the individual struggles that separate the teams in the hockey penthouse from those in the outhouse.

"It's not just fights. There's one-on-ones in the corners, along the boards, in front of the net. A faceoff is a one-on-one battle for the puck. Almost every situation is a one-on-one and the team that wins most of those usually wins the game."

Because of the past week's injuries, London faces an immediate future without two of its top one-on-one winners -- defenceman Scott Aarssen and forward Jordan Foreman.

"They have the willingness to work for the puck and they don't often get beat. You're always looking for that kind of player. You watch video and see who's winning the one-on-ones out there. It's even more important for defencemen because they can't just use their sticks to stop forwards anymore. You have to be smart, have a quick stick, get good body position and outwork the other guy."

The beauty of Aarssen, expected to be out at least a month with shoulder woes, is he gains the puck consistently in his own end without committing many infractions. If a team fails to win a majority of one-on-ones and takes a lot of penalties, it is bound to see its loss total soar.

"The NHL is even more about one-on-one situations and it used to be that you would get mugged when you went after the puck," Hunter said. "That's no longer the case. The game has opened up."

That's why Hunter is interested to see how defencemen Ryan Martinelli and Todd Perry -- plus a couple of younger blue-liners -- handle extra ice time in Aarssen's absence. There is no longer a Trevor Kell available to bail out the Knights' back end in times of crisis.

"I expect my ice time to go up and it'll be tiring but I've waited three years for the chance to play half the game," Martinelli said. "We'll miss Scott. We we had some good chemistry together and we've been at the top of the league in plus-minus -- but we'll be disappointed if we lose ground because of these injuries. "We're still one of the top teams in the league and feel like we have the team to stay up there."

Martinelli is likely to play with fellow over-ager Perry, although assistant coach Dave Gagner reserved the right to break up the veteran duo and place them with less-experienced players such as Corey Syvret, Tony DeHart, Corbin Crawford and Kevin Bodker if the rookie recovers from an injury quickly enough to get into the lineup.

Forward Matt Clarke, the Londoner who injured his wrist Nov. 4 against Guelph, visits the doctor tomorrow morning to see if he has clearance to play this week.

GM Mark Hunter denied his team is closing in on making a deal for a defenceman and brother Dale said this week gives him a chance to evaluate if younger players are ready to step into larger roles. But the players know the Hunters won't sit still long if the team falls into a funk.

"If the coaches and Mark feel like they need to make a deal, then they're going to do what's best for the team," Martinelli said. "We feel like we have some good chemistry going in here right now, but what I want is for this team to keep winning and if that means getting somebody new in here who can help, that would be great."

In one move yesterday, the Knights signed fourth-round pick Kale Kerbashian, a 16-year-old forward from Thunder Bay. The member of the Fort William (junior A) North Stars has three goals and 22 points in 18 games.

KNIGHTWATCH

Tomorrow: vs. Kitchener, 7 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre

Friday: vs. Erie, 7:30 p.m. at the JLC

Sunday: at Toronto St. Mike's, 2 p.m.


Videos

Photos