Another solid Knight season remarkable

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:18 AM ET

Raise your hand if you thought the London Knights would be but a few wins from winning the Ontario Hockey League regular season title this year.

If you raised your hand, you fall into one of three categories: a wildly optimistic and oblivious fan, the most astute hockey observer on the planet or a big liar.

A win over the Kitchener Rangers tomorrow night at the John Labatt Centre will practically eliminate the Rangers from the chase for first place overall, leaving them 10 points back of the Knights with the only five games to play.

The Knights still have to worry about the tough Plymouth Whalers, who are two points behind and with the same number of games left, five.

But even if the Whalers catch the Knights, what London has done this season is more than surprising. Some consider it remarkable.

"We knew we had some holes to fill and you just never know," Knights general manager Mark Hunter said.

And they really didn't know.

They went into the season with Steve Mason as the No. 1 goaltender. He hadn't played a lot of games and really was an unknown commodity. He's now the best big-save goaltender in the league and is closing on the league record for wins in a season.

The Knights lost most of their offensive strength with the graduation of Dave Bolland, Dylan Hunter and Rob Schremp. They replaced them with terrific prospects, but no one would have believed that Pat Kane and Sam Gagner would wind up chasing the OHL scoring title.

A.J. Perry has 39 goals. No matter how gritty a player he's become, 39 goals is probably 15 more than anyone believed possible.

And on the day the Knights held a news conference to announce Kane had decided to forgo university hockey to come to the Knights, another player was introduced. That was David Meckler.

David Who? was the initial reaction.

No one is saying David Who? any more. He made an immediate impact from the first day of dry-land testing, taking a leadership role on the team. He's scored 36 goals and will be a key component of any playoff run.

Players take turns in carrying the team. Last month it was Sergei Kostitsyn. He was dominating.

This is a team that had a lot of questions before the season began. They've provided a lot of answers, most of them the right ones.

"If you would have told us that we would have been in first place with five games left, we might not have believed it. But we've got a good combination of kids and they've really worked out," Hunter said.

The Knights find ways to win. The standard makeup of a young team has them playing well at home and not as well on the road. This group has a 26-5 record away from the JLC.

Last weekend's three-games- in-2 1/2 -days road trip could have been a backbreaker. Rob Drummond was out with a con- cussion. Josh Beaulieu was hurt and Jordan Foreman missed the final game with an injury. London won all three.

The injury situation for tomorrow's game remains unclear. Drummond will be examined and likely won't play. Foreman is still sore and doubtful. Beaulieu should play and Meckler, who blocked a shot with his foot in Kingston, is also expected to play.

"We still have to play well in the playoffs," Hunter said. "The pressure will be a lot different."

The Knights have added defenceman Matt Ashman, 16, for the rest of the season.

If you listen to bleatings from around the league, given the choice of playing the Rangers, Whalers, Saginaw Spirit or Knights, teams would prefer to play the Knights. The feeling is London's defence can be pressured, the younger, smaller players can be beaten up and the Knights don't have the kind of depth the other teams have. There may be something to that. At least, that's what the blueprint says.

The only problem for the other teams is getting the Knights to follow it.


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