Gagner buries Spirit

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 10:29 AM ET

SAGINAW, MICH. -- It was like he's never been away.

While most players who played for Canada's national junior team took the day off, London Knights Sam Gagner came back and took apart the Saginaw Spirit.

Before he left for the world junior tournament, Gagner was in the chase for the Ontario Hockey League scoring lead.

He took up where he left off.

Gagner had a goal and three assists and Adam Perry had three goals yesterday as the Knights stifled one of the powerhouses in the Ontario Hockey League 4-2 in their own house.

Gagner had returned Saturday from Sweden where he helped Canada to a gold medal. Yesterday, after a slow start he worked some of his stick magic, immediately stabilizing a Knights power play which had suffered considerably with most of its top players at the world junior tournament.

"I felt good," said Gagner. "I got a good night's sleep (Saturday) and I was ready to go. I'm a little tired now but I was lucky because it was an afternoon game so jet lag didn't bother me. It was like a night game in Sweden."

The Knights still didn't have Pat Kane or Sergei Kostitsyn in the lineup. The Spirit had their own missing national players.

Tom Pyatt and Ryan O'Marra, who played with Canada and Tomas Zaborsky with Slovakia, were all given time off.

The Knights, and Perry in particular, were glad Gagner opted to play.

"I'm glad to see him big time," said Perry.

"He has phenomenal skill, the best set of hands in the league.

"He never takes a night off. We had a lot more chances on the power play (last night.)"

While Kane, Gagner and Kostitsyn have been away, the Knights' power play hasn't produced a lot of chances.

Perry is an expert on capitalizing on those chances on the power play, scoring the short stuff from 10 feet and in.

Perry now has 27 goals and 18 of them are on the power play.

"When you get the right spot at the right time, the good players always seem to find you," said Perry.

It was an impressive win for the Knights. It came on the heels of a poor performance Friday night when they lost 3-0 to Plymouth Whalers.

The Knights were playing a team that is serious about making a run at the OHL title. Recent trades and signings have brought it solid defencemen such as Mitch Maunu and Andrew Hotham from Erie Otters and top scorer Cody Bass from Mississauga.

To make matters more interesting, coach Dale Hunter opted to give No. 1 goaltender Steve Mason the day off and go with backup Stephane Cesar.

"He hasn't had a chance to play much," said Hunter. "But we were better tonight than we were the other night. We skated better."

The Knights did to the Spirit what the Whalers did to the Knights Friday. Until the Knights ran into penalty problems midway through the third period, they had managed to choke the life out of the game. They gave the Spirit nothing and the Spirit were playing as if they were happy with that.

But the game turned interesting when Knights defenceman Todd Perry was handed a five-minute major for elbowing Jan Murzak.

It was the second big hit of the night Perry had laid on Murzak.

It was the only time Cesar was pressured. With the score 4-2 and the Spirit still on a five-minute power play, he made several solid saves preserving a win the Knights fully deserved.

"We played a good defensive game, just waiting for our chances and we were able to capitalize when we got them," said Adam Perry."

Playing on the road is something the Knights know how to do. It was their 15th road win to go with only three losses.

GAME GLANCE

Knights 4, Spirit 2

London goals: Adam Perry 3, Sam Gagner

Saginaw goals: Chris Chappell, Ryan Berard

Next: Thursday, the Knights travel to the new General Motors Centre in Oshawa to play the Generals.


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