McRae grabs spotlight

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:41 AM ET

Maybe Akim Aliu's agitating ways will end up providing the glue that helps these London Knights stick together.

Or maybe the team just has to get Phil McRae's namesake uncle to visit the Forest City a lot more often.

After Aliu's first-period antics turned the London faithful against him, the younger Phil McRae put on a clinic by scoring twice -- including the winner -- to lead the Knights to a much-needed 6-2 victory over the Sudbury Wolves before 9,090 yesterday at the John Labatt Centre.

"You never want to lose two in a row at home (or three straight after the Niagara two-game sweep this week)," said McRae, who has 26 goals. "Everyone's making an adjustment here. We brought in four or five different guys than what we started the season with. It takes some time but whoever you play with, you know you're going to be on a talented line."

McRae's uncle Phil helped coach the Barrie Colts atom team, which includes 10-year-old cousin Dylan McRae, in an exhibition contest against a London counterpart before the OHL game.

The little Colts lost, but the big Knights won. McRae, the St. Louis second-rounder who didn't see his normal ice time early on Friday night against Niagara, has rebounded to score three times in the past five periods.

"We have high expectations of Phil McRae," said Knights assistant coach Pat Curcio. "He's a big part of our team and the most important thing for him is to play well defensively, which he did. That's where it all starts."

The Knights needed a lot out of McRae because a flu-stricken dressing room forced them to play with a short bench. They went with 11 forwards and five defencemen after Jared Knight, Jason Wilson and Vladmir Roth were knocked out of the lineup.

McRae looked at it as an opportunity to step up and contribute more.

"The flu bug has really hit us hard," Curcio said. "You never know when you're over it. Kevin Montgomery had it earlier in the week. We had a lot of the guys get the flu shots but we had a few who didn't because they didn't believe in it. We don't know yet who got the shots and who didn't. We're just going to try to get some rest and get ready for Kitchener (tomorrow night)."

London's bench lost another body early in the first period after Leigh Salters was kicked out for trying to fight Aliu. There were six 10-minute misconducts handed out, including one to Aliu for questioning the officiating.

The Knights wouldn't admit to a spitting incident involving Aliu on Salters. But Salters did say the two have a history that dates back to last year's London-Guelph playoff series when Aliu was with the Knights.

Shortly after the Wolves bus rolled into the JLC, Aliu found ex-Knights teammate Daniel Erlich and gave him a hug.

At the end of the game, Aliu was the last to leave the visitors' bench and tapped gloves with Erlich and defenceman Steve Tarasuk before heading to the Sudbury dressing room.

"I'm going to miss the guys on the team," Aliu said, "but I won't miss the coaches."

He'll miss the chance to play with old buddy John Tavares in London. After going scoreless in Niagara on Thursday and finishing minus-seven in the past two games, No. 61 scored his ninth as a Knight, added three assists and finished plus-three.

He also regained the OHL scoring lead by two points over Windsor's Taylor Hall, who scored a goal in a 6-3 victory over Plymouth.

"I thought we played pretty well the past couple of games," Tavares said.

"We had 50 shots (in Friday's loss to Niagara) and had a chance to score a few more there. We finished a little better (yesterday); it was a game we felt we had to win and found a way to play with a lot more urgency."

Could Aliu and his showmanship lead to a tighter group of Knights?

"You never know what's going to happen," Tavares said. "We just want to keep playing hard and when we do that, we'll find that things are going to work out for us."

The Knights showed some extra defensive awareness that had gone missing. Trevor Cann made a couple of important saves that kept the Wolves from tying it in the second period and Zac Rinaldo delivered his usual dose of glass-rattling hits.

Now, all the Knights have do is find their own team identity. Yesterday, they were united in shutting up the grandstanding Aliu.

"I think the guys know you just can't show up and put the jersey on," Curcio said. "You read every book out there on champions: it takes sacrifice and that's what we need right now is guys willing to pay the price."

GAME GLANCE Knights 6, Wolves 2

London goals: Phil McRae (2), John Tavares, Michael Del Zotto, John Carlson, Nazem Kadri

Sudbury goals: Akim Aliu, Gerome Giudice

Next: Former Ranger Nazem Kadri plays in Kitchener for the first time since the 2008 Memorial Cup final as London makes its first trip to the Memorial Auditorium this season tomorrow. Game time is 7:30 p.m.


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