Knights find dealing is tough

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:56 AM ET

Before practice, Adam Perry ran onto the ice at Western Fair Sports Centre and gave Belarussian Sergei Kostitsyn a big handshake and bear hug.

No one had to tell Perry, who has 18 of his 27 goals with the man advantage this season, what it means to have Kostitsyn, Pat Kane and Sam Gagner back from the world junior hockey championships.

Barring a big-time trade today, the London Knights highly rated power play is officially back in business.

"When those guys were gone, you're missing one whole line," London head coach Dale Hunter said. "We played .500 hockey without them. We were up and down. It was OK at times. We didn't score as much as we would've liked."

With OHL trading set to end at 6 p.m. today, London has found it difficult to put together packages to wrest top talent away from non-contending teams. Two years removed from a Memorial Cup title, the Knights feel they are still in the process of replenishing the young talent and high draft picks it takes to trade for older, established stars.

"You're always looking to improve and you always want guys like (Steve) Downie and (Daniel) Ryder on your team," Dale Hunter said. "We didn't get Downie (the two-time world junior gold medallist went from Peterborough to Kitchener) but Mark (Knights GM Mark Hunter) is doing his best working the phones. We don't have a lot of the assets and depth you need to get a deal like that done right now but we'll see who's out there and at what price."

Gagner and Kane, who aren't going anywhere during trade time, were given the day off practice yesterday. That pair, plus the addition of point-producing forward Justin Taylor and the return of goalie Steve Mason and defenceman Scott Aarssen, bodes well for the future of the Knights.

Kostitsyn, one of the best forwards in the playoffs last season, doesn't see his team as an underdog despite Kitchener declaring itself a Memorial Cup contender and Saginaw beefing up for a title run.

"We're good again," he said. "We have a chance."

For the 19-year-old, all bets ended after he helped little-regarded Belarus beat Finland in the opening game of the world junior tournament in Sweden. He knows a deadly powerplay, quality goaltending and a little luck -- all components the Knights used in their run to the OHL final last year -- is sometimes enough.

"That was the most fun -- the best moment to beat Finland," the slick-skating import said. "It's always fun to play in that tournament. The A Pool and the B Pool are totally different. The teams are different. The level of play is not the same."

An offensive leader for Belarus, Kostitsyn has racked up plenty of penalty minutes in his past two international assignments. He was booted out early in his team's final loss of the tournament against Slovakia.

"I play the same way (as here)," he said. "I just got a high stick, there was blood, so I was out."

Kostitsyn, whose team didn't face Canada or the U.S., watched the teams play their round-robin game.

"I didn't get to talk to (Kane or Gagner) -- just to say hi after the game," he said.

Between the tournament and visits to his home in Belarus, Kostitsyn followed the fortunes of the Knights on the Internet before returning to the ice in London yesterday.

"I saw (Adam Perry) got three (goals in Saginaw)," Kostitsyn said with a wide grin.


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