Taylor's Christmas spirit boosts Roth

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:48 AM ET

Two days before the world junior hockey tournament started, London Knights defenceman Vladimir Roth was let go by the Czech Republic team.

It was Christmas Eve.

The Czechs, who selected Owen Sound's Milan Doczy instead, went on to Ottawa. But it was already too late for the 18-year-old Roth to fly home to spend Christmas in Prague.

So gritty Knights assistant captain Justin Taylor, already finished buying his five-year-old niece the necessary equipment to slide down neighbourhood hills (toboggan, magic carpet), drove to Brampton to pick up his teammate -- and try to lift his spirits.

"It never feels good to be cut," Taylor said. "No one wants that feeling, but I told Vlad in the car 'Don't worry about it. You'll make it next year and if you don't, then you come back here again and help the London Knights win.' "

That's Taylor, the 19-year-old Washington Capitals draft pick who plays bigger than his body, doesn't back down from anyone and does all the underappreciated stuff -- blocking shots, killing penalties, shadowing stars -- while providing a bunch more offence.

Roth spent Christmas at his London billets -- the home of Mike and Laurie Brown.

"It was too bad Vlad couldn't make it home but they (the Browns) were great to him and bought him some gifts," Knights assistant coach Pat Curcio said. "It all worked out well in the end."

The Knights reconvened on Dec. 27 to prepare for the second half of the season. They have some reinforcements on their way back.

Goalie Trevor Cann, sidelined by a concussion, is expected to play tonight in Saginaw. So is captain Scott Aarssen, who had suffered from a deep bone bruise before the break.

"Michael Zador did a fine job (3-0 in Cann's absence) keeping us in games while Trevor was out," Curcio said. "That's what you expect from your backup goalie."

Steve Tarasuk, who has a broken knuckle, and Phil Varone, who hurt his knee against Sarnia, are still week-to-week.

Garett Hunter, who hasn't played in nearly a month and a half with a dislocated kneecap, is day-to-day.

The first game after the holiday break is usually an indicator of a team's mindset heading into the stretch run. Prepared teams get right back to business and bad teams act like they're still on vacation.

"You start out the regular season and play 34 games in almost four months so things are a little more spread out," Curcio said. "But now, you have 34 more in two-and-a-half months so you have to be ready. They come at you quickly. This is our first game and Saginaw's already played two after the break."

The OHL trade deadline for all players is noon on Jan. 9. There's a freeze in place involving world junior participants until three days before that so the Knights likely won't know until the last few moments if GM Mark Hunter will add a little or a lot for the postseason push.

"We know right now we have four lines capable of offence (second to Windsor in goals scored)," Taylor said, "and we're getting everyone committed to the defensive end. We take pride in our goals-against numbers (101 in 34 games) and if you have everyone buying in, you're in good shape.

"Sure, we'd like to finish first overall. Everyone always wants to be the highest-ranked team, but the most important part is to keep winning games and be at our best heading into the playoffs."

If the Knights can't acquire a sniper like John Tavares, they'll need to make sure Phil McRae keeps filling the net, John Carlson adjusts to the grind of a 68-game schedule and Taylor doesn't wear down at both ends of the rink.

"Carlson, McRae and Taylor are all top-end players who we know can produce even more for us and we're going to lean on those guys," Curcio said.

KNIGHTWATCH

Tonight: at Saginaw, 7 p.m.

Tomorrow: at Sarnia, 6 p.m.

Friday: vs. Sarnia, 7:30 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre. More tickets have been released for the first home game of 2009. Phone 519-681-0800 ext. 1, or visit www.londonknights.com


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