What's on menu for Knights fans?

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 8:58 AM ET

It's OK for all you fans to expect the London Knights to win every year.

It's no different than what goes on in the team's offices.

"The expectations that we'll win all the time is something we have to deal with," said said general manager Mark Hunter. "It's not being arrogant. We don't want to be arrogant, but when you put a team together, the only thing you will be happy with is success.

"We put pressure on ourselves."

In other words, the expectations London fans put on their Ontario Hockey League team is no greater than the expectations held by the Knights themselves.

"That's it exactly," Hunter said.

The Knights open their season tonight against the Sarnia Sting. The Knights are ranked No. 1 in just about every junior hockey poll you happen to read.

Junior hockey fans in this went through almost 40 years of starvation.

Now like gluttons, they belly up to the John Labatt Centre and expect every year they'll have a banquet of all-you-can-eat filet mignon and lobster tails.

The talk is not whether this team can win, it's about what happens when it can win. The last four years, fans watched their team win four regular-season championships, an OHL championship and a Memorial Cup.

When you're as stuffed as these fans, you often fail to recognize that luck plays a major role in that success and the Knights, like all successful teams, have had their fair share.

Putting together the kind of run they've had in junior hockey is amazing. Most teams go through a down cycle every three or four years as their top players graduate.

The Knights haven't.

They've managed to bring in players to replace those top players and the players they've brought in have been solid replacements.

They've managed to get the chemistry right. There's been no public explosions.

"The expectations that we'll win all the time is something we have to deal with."

KNIGHTS GM MARK HUNTER

Since the loss of Rick Nash to the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2002 as an NHL under-ager, the Knights have not seen a player go to the NHL before his junior eligibility ended.

While they've had injuries, the Knights have not lost a must-have player for an extended period of time in a number of years.

"We have been lucky that we haven't had a lot of injuries," Hunter said. "What happens if you lose your top scorer? Or what happens if you lose your No. 1 goaltender? And what happens if we don't get some of those players back?"

Pat Kane, Sam Gagner and goaltender Steve Mason are still with their respective NHL clubs.

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Kane is the long shot to come back to London. Gagner has done what good hockey players do. He's earned a longer look from Edmonton Oilers. Mason is expected to remain with Columbus a while longer but should be back.

Hunter hits you with an "I don't know," four or five times during an interview. It isn't a lack of cooperation. It's because he legitimately doesn't know what's going to happen.

This Knights team is a wait-and-see team like no other since the Hunter regime began.

New players Tony Romano and Pat Maroon scored well in their respective leagues. Will they do the same in the OHL?

Akim Aliu is always being touted on his potential. In 53 games last year he had 42 points. Will he put more points on the board this year?

Will the power play be as functional without the kind of offensive talent that was here last year?

Will Phil McRae fulfill the high expectations that have been placed on him this year?

Will the Knights stay healthy and will their top players come back from NHL camps?

In previous year's the answers were all a resounding 'yes.'

What are the odds all those will be 'yes' again?

If they are, belly up to the buffet folks, it's filet mignon and lobster tails yet again.


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