Tavares debut big hit

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:13 AM ET

There are two things in hockey that can't be taught by coaches or skills camps.

An expert touch around the net and the ability to rise to the occasion.

Luckily for London, John Tavares is blessed with both.

The guy everyone waited to see took less than 10 minutes to score as a Knight.

Then, the new No. 61 buried the eventual game-winner by converting a breathless Nazem Kadri one-handed backhand pass that had no business becoming a scoring chance.

Thunderous start. Lightning finish.

Tavares' second marker served as his OHL-leading sixth shorthanded goal and staked the Knights to a 7-3 victory over a tough Mississauga St. Michael's Majors team before 9,070 yesterday at the John Labatt Centre.

"Everyone was kind of waiting for my first game and it was nice to get that behind me," the 18-year-old sniper said. "I was excited. It took a little while to get my breathing back."

Then, he got down to his usual business: scoring goals.

He even set up fellow ex-General Michael Del Zotto's third period tally for a three-point day, then admitted he was impressed with the Knights' operation.

"We're a puck possession team and we like to have the D jumping up in the play," Tavares said. "I didn't even notice (that all the team's forwards but rookie Jared Knight are left-handed shots). Dale (head coach Dale Hunter) moves guys around but no matter who's out there, there's a lot of talent in this room to play with.

"And (on the second goal) all the credit goes to Naz. He made a great play and even took a stick in the face while getting the puck over."

Not everyone could have finished that play.

"On the Kadri pass, a lot of guys would have just liked to get their stick on that puck but John not only did that, he drove it into the back of the net," London assistant coach Pat Curcio. "That's why he scored 72 goals as a 16-year-old. He does things with character and with passion.

"We scored seven goals and only had two power plays. That isn't easy to do."

And as quick as he arrived, Tavares is gone again. He and Kadri are off to his old Oshawa stomping grounds today to prepare for Wednesday's Canadian Hockey League's Top Prospects Game at the General Motors Centre.

They'll be back in London Thursday to face Kitchener.

"It'll be a nice opportunity to say good-bye to the (Oshawa) fans and play there one last time," Tavares said. "There'll be 40 of the best draft-eligible players there. It's a big opportunity."

Again, he'll be under the microscope as the favourite to be the first pick at the NHL draft at Montreal in June. He'll be looked upon to produce against the best of his peers.

But for this one game in London, it was his on-ice presence -- his innate ability to score goals and his leadership in the room -- that gravitated his teammates to him.

"Everyone was jacked up with it being John's first game," said rough-and-tumble forward Zac Rinaldo, who helped the Knights beat his old team. "You could feel it out there. It was another big crowd and we did what we had to do to get the win.

"It doesn't matter if it's against Mississauga or Windsor. We're going to play the same way."

The Knights have now won 21 of their past 24 games. They won't lose many if they keep scoring six and seven goals a game.

It's a team new Major and former Knight Kale Kerbashian was sorry to leave. He has been in a bit of a haze after being moved for Rinaldo.

"It's a lot different playing in front of 1,000 fans instead of 9,000. I would've still liked to have been here to go on this run with them," he said. "I was close to the Hunters so it's tough. I'm sure I'll come back (to London) in the summer to skate.

"I think it's going to be good here but it's different. I've known these guys for a long time."

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KNIGHTS 7, MAJORS 3

London goals: John Tavares (2), Jared Knight, Tucker Hunter, Vladimir Roth, Matt Clarke, Michael Del Zotto

Mississauga goals: Casey Cizikas, Jared Gomes, Rob Flick

Next: The Knights face the Kitchener Rangers on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre. John Tavares and Nazem Kadri are heading to Oshawa today to prepare for the Canadian Hockey League's Top Prospects Game Wednesday.


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