WOODSTOCK -- Rookie goalie Michael Zador ended his first London Knights training camp the same way he started it -- with an injury.
Scheduled to go the distance in the team's final exhibition game, London's top pick in the OHL draft didn't last a period after being bowled over in the crease by Saginaw's Ryan Berard in a 3-2 Knights loss yesterday before 2,500 on the Olympic-sized ice at Southwood Arena in the Woodstock Community Complex.
The Spirit forward was penalized for goalie interference. The 16-year-old Zador tried to soldier on before finally skating to the bench and heading to the dressing room. He was replaced by Stephane Cesar.
"It's frustrating -- I felt the bodies fall on me and I just felt something pull," the Toronto native said. "I stayed dressed just to support the team."
London forward Justin Taylor was curious to see what officials T.J. Luxmore and Joel Washkurak wrote on the game sheet after a skirmish at the end of the third period left the Knight with a big welt above his eye.
"The ref said he was going to give me the max and that I would miss the home opener (Friday at 7:30 p.m. against Sarnia), so we'll have to see," Taylor said. "I was just trying to defend myself."
Zador, a favourite to play for Team Ontario at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge in London after Christmas, missed the first part of camp with an ankle sprain suffered while participating in off-ice training.
The 20th overall pick, who is competing for the Knights backup job this season with the veteran Cesar and six-foot-seven Stephen Heming, surrendered just one goal -- the game's first shot -- in nearly 18 minutes of work and made a few solid pad saves before departing in a scene mirroring that of Steve Mason's injury in Windsor right before Canadian world junior camp last December.
"I was happy (with how the start went to that point)," Zador said.
London placed Corbin Crawford, who is trying to crack the regular lineup as a defenceman, on the forward ranks for the contest. He drew an assist and also a game misconduct for a spirited punch-up with Saginaw's six-foot-six, 218-pound Christopher Breen.
Saginaw forward Jason McDonough, the younger brother of Spirit veteran Ryan McDonough, faces an automatic one-game suspension to start the season after receiving a match penalty for a slew-foot.
The Spirit play on Wednesday against the Soo to start the OHL season.
Saginaw rookie coach Todd Watson hasn't yet been recruited as a regular contributor to the Colbert Report after TV comic Stephen Colbert adopted the Spirit as his favourite sports team last season and had former GM/coach Bob Mancini on his program.
"If they know me, they won't put me on," the former Plymouth Whalers assistant said with a laugh.
Watson took the Saginaw job after helping lead the Whalers to the OHL championship last season and a berth in the Memorial Cup at Vancouver, where they failed to advance to the finals.
"It was a memorable season, but a disappointing Memorial Cup," he said. "Sometimes, when you have so many good players who want the puck, it's harder to coach than an over-achieving team. With that group, Mike and I just got out of the way and let them play."
Former London first-round draft pick Tommy Mannino is trying to stick with the Spirit as an over-age player.
"I've known Tommy since he was 11 or 12 with the Compuware program and I know he has always wanted to play," Watson said. "We have him on defence right now and we'll see what happens."
Saginaw had one of the older teams in the OHL last year and under-achieved in the playoffs by falling to the Greyhounds in the first round. They have lost a lot of quality veteran players and will be hard-pressed to repeat as a team in the top half of the Western Conference.
NOTES: With the loss, the Knights finished the pre-season 2-3-1 . . . The three stars were Saginaw goalie Joseph Lepera, London's Philip McRae and Spirit forward Mitch Fillman.
Spirit 3, Knights 2
Saginaw goals: Mitch Fillman, T.J. Brodie, Kain Allicock
London goals: Brad Fleishman, Justin Taylor
Next: London opens the 2007-08 OHL regular season against the Sarnia Sting on Friday at 7:30 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre.