Greyhounds need magic trick

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:07 AM ET

Craig Hartsburg is a heck of a hockey coach.

After his team's upset win over the Saginaw Spirit, he may be a magician as well.

But if he can guide his Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds to a playoff victory over the London Knights, you'd have to consider him right up there with the likes of Harry Houdini, Joseph Dunninger and David Copperfield as one of the all-time great magicians.

This is about pulling a rabbit out of a hat. More like pulling a rhinoceros out.

The Knights and Greyhounds open their OHL Western Conference best-of-seven semifinal series tonight at the John Labatt Centre.

The Greyhounds will be coming into the series as huge underdogs. It's a position they probably like. Nothing to lose and everything to gain.

There's something to be said about being in that position especially if you can play well enough to make a series of it, then the pressure really begins to mount on the favoured team.

But what is reality? Is there magic left in the Greyhounds? Will they provide a roadblock for London or a speed bump?

The numbers say the Greyhounds are no more than a goal from doing some damage. In the four games the teams have played this year, one goal has been the difference in each one. While the Knights have been the team to score that extra goal, one was overtime and two were shootouts. If you go back to the last two games of the Knights playoff series win last year against the Greyhounds, the last six games have been decided by one goal.

But it's been 12 games since the Greyhounds have beaten the Knights. Greyhound starting goaltender Kyle Gajewski, from London, has never won an OHL game in the JLC.

All that has been well documented. But what's more difficult to document is how much the Greyhound victory against the Saginaw Spirit will mean to them.

We've all seen what winning has meant to the Knights. No matter what the situation, the Knights believe they can win. No matter how much pressure they face, they believe they will respond. It doesn't always happen but believing you can do it is half the battle.

That will be the key for the Greyhounds, starting with Gajewski.

The Londoner has been quoted in the Sault Star as saying he's going to play a game at a time and now worry about what's happened in the past, that he's going to approach these games like he does all the others.

The Greyhounds hope so because unless Gajewski is outstanding, they don't have a prayer.

One thing you won't see is an Owen Sound Attack. The Attack went meekly against the Knights. The Attack will tell you that Knights goaltender Steve Mason was the difference. But the Attack never looked that as a team, they were willing to play a price to win.

The Greyhounds will play hard. They will pay a price to win. They also have Hartsburg who will make every coaching move he can to keep his team close.

He'll use Brandon MacLean, Andrew Desjardins, David Kuchejda to try and slow down the Knights snipers. He'll school his team about the importance of staying out of the box. He'll coax whatever he can out of his players.

The Greyhounds grew from their playoff win against the Spirit and they'll grow from their playoff experience against the Knights.

But the Knights have too much power, too many good players and too much experience to lose in this round.

The 'Hounds will be barking and nipping at them all series. They'll reap the benefit of their experience next year.

But this year, they'll have to settle for winning one game and recognizing that the franchise is taking the right road to future success.


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