Hunter takes 2-game hit

RYAN PYETTE -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:12 AM ET

Dale Hunter won't be behind the London bench for the next two games after receiving a game misconduct in the third period of the Knights' 6-3 loss in Owen Sound last Saturday.

The suspension was handed down just as OHL-leading London prepares for a critical three-game road trip through eastern Ontario with the Knights clinging to a one-point lead over Plymouth in the race for the regular season title.

Hunter was ejected 7:15 into the third period for his reaction to the officiating of referees Mike Pearce and Dave Lewis. The Knights received just one power-play opportunity in that game -- and scored -- while the Attack went four-for-seven with the man advantage.

"I didn't swear -- I got it for being sarcastic," Hunter said. "In all my years of coaching and watching junior A hockey -- and playing -- I can't remember a team getting one power play in a game. If you watch a game at any level from the pros to junior to minor hockey, you could call a penalty on every shift if you go by the letter of the rule book.

"Watch any tape of a game. There are penalties that go uncalled all the time."

Even though London has consistently ranked at or near the top of the OHL in power-play opportunities this season, Hunter feels the team's success with the man advantage can cost them calls at pivotal moments of hockey games.

"We have the top power play in the league and because of that, if something happens late, refs don't want to call it because it could make the difference in the game," Hunter said.

That's not supposed to happen under the new standard of enforcement, which implies a penalty is still a penalty no matter when in the game the infraction occurs.

London's chief concern, of course, should be returning to the basics that create those power-play opportunities -- puck control, skating hard to the net and producing more scoring chances than the opposition. Hunter thinks his club has done a good job at it but haven't been rewarded with power play chances.

"The kids are working hard -- Pat Kane and Sam Gagner and Sergei Kostitsyn are quick skaters and to knock them off the puck, you pretty much have to hook or hold them," Hunter said. "If you don't, they'll have the puck the whole game.

"When I played Gretzky, Kurri, Messier and Coffey, those guys were better than me, so I had to give them a hook or a hold to stop them. The difference is it was allowed back then -- it was amazing what they were able to do in that kind of environment -- but now it's not supposed to be called that way. We have a higher standard of enforcement."

The suspension means Hunter will miss another chance to coach at the Ottawa Civic Centre. Last year, he was hit with a two-game suspension after London and Peterborough engaged in four consecutive fights in eight seconds at the start of the first period the day before the Knights headed to Canada's capital city.

For the Ottawa and Belleville games, London GM Mark Hunter will take his brother's coaching spot along with assistants Dave Gagner and Todd Bidner.

With eight games to go in the regular season, London starting goalie Steve Mason -- always his team's best penalty killer -- indicated he feels strong and healthy and ready to help his team maximize its position for a playoff run.

"There's some pressure because we want to end up in first and we haven't sewn it up yet," he said. "I thought it's gone pretty well for my first year in the net. I figure I'll get a bit of a rest over the last few weeks before the playoffs start."

That rest would likely come in one of London's final two games against Erie because there's potential for rough stuff. Otter Patrick Lee, suspended for eight games for running Knights forward Sam Gagner into the end boards, will be eligible to play in that season-ending series.

London captain Robbie Drummond, who hit his head on the boards after being head-checked by Kitchener's Jakub Kindl last Tuesday, isn't expected to return this weekend. Forward Matt Clarke, a fellow Londoner, has been practising as a defenceman.

KNIGHTWATCH

Tomorrow: at Ottawa, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday: at Belleville, 7:15 p.m.

Sunday: at Kingston, 2 p.m.


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