Knights expect to score top gun

RYAN PYETTE, FREE PRESS SPORTS REPORTER

, Last Updated: 10:31 AM ET

The London Knights' colours are green, white, black, antique gold -- and now Maroon.

Mark Hunter is on the verge of another recruiting coup by signing big, high-scoring forward Pat Maroon to skate at the John Labatt Centre this season after the top American had been ticketed to join the U.S. college ranks.

"We're getting close to getting him here," the London GM said yesterday.

Maroon, 19, a six-foot-four, 235-pound winger from St. Louis, had signed on to play at Ferris State University this fall but veteran Bulldogs bench boss Bob Daniels confirmed the prize recruit won't be coming to Big Rapids, Mich.

"I talked to him five days ago and it looks like he's going to London," Daniels said. "It's a bit disappointing. I'm obviously a big fan of college hockey and think it's a great route for a lot of players. For others, junior hockey might be the best decision they can make."

The head coach couldn't say if Maroon's decision to leave the books for the OHL was based on grades because academic standing is a private matter. There has been a surge in the number of U.S. players spurning scholarships to play for the Knights in the last year (David Meckler, Tony Romano, Kevin Montgomery and Pat Kane).

"I don't get too much involved in the politics of what's going on (in junior hockey)," Daniels said. "It's an issue. It looks like it will always be an on-going battle between us and junior hockey for the top players."

Maroon, who was selected by Philadelphia in the sixth round (161st overall) of last month's NHL entry draft, is currently at the Flyers development camp in Voorhees, N.J., participating along with possible Knights teammate Josh Beaulieu.

Last season, Maroon scored 40 goals and 95 points with 152 penalty minutes and was named MVP of the the North American Hockey League. He topped playoff scoring with 10 goals and 23 points in 12 games and led the St. Louis Bandits to the championship.

London secured Maroon's rights by taking him with its second pick in the 11th round (220th overall) of the 2004 OHL draft. The Knights' first pick in that round yielded their current starting goalie -- Columbus prospect and reigning OHL top netminder Steve Mason.

It doesn't look like Hunter's wheeling and dealing is done as he attempts to put together a Memorial Cup-calibre squad -- whether or not top NHL pick Kane is sent back to London by Chicago. He indicated he spent yesterday morning trying to talk another talented recruit into coming to London.

Less than two weeks ago, Hunter traded up to 11th in the Canadian Hockey League import draft to take 1990-born defenceman Vladimir Roth from the Czech Republic -- a player Hunter coveted and went to watch on a scouting trip to Finland this past spring.

"He's a good player and we were afraid we weren't going to get a chance to take him so we made the deal (a 2009 third-round pick to Peterborough, who already has two import players on its roster)," Hunter said.

London still hasn't decided who will be behind the bench with head coach Dale Hunter and assistant Dave Gagner for the 2007-08 season. Hunter said he's still negotiating with Todd Bidner on that matter.

The Knights are also down a scout with the departure of Dave Syvret, the father of ex-captain Danny Syvret and younger brother Corey, the former London first-rounder who was traded to Guelph last season.

Dave Syvret, who resides in Millgrove, received much credit from Hunter for directing the Knights toward a young and talented Mason.

"We're still friends," Hunter said of Syvret.

LEAFS IN STRATHROY

The Toronto Maple Leafs will conduct a scrimmage featuring several rookie prospects today at 3:30 p.m. at the Gemini SportsPlex in Strathroy. It's open to the public and proceeds go to the Strathroy-Caradoc reading garden. For more info, contact the SportsPlex at 519-245-7557.


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