'Work hard' Hunter tells Knights

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:13 AM ET

Four straight losses isn't forcing Dale Hunter to scrap the foundation on which he has forged this OHL season.

The London Knights head coach doesn't believe he has to toss his team's puck possession style of play -- the same game he admires from the reigning Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings -- in favour of a simple, dump-and-chase attack.

"Work hard -- that's it," the former Canadian Hockey League coach of the year said. "We have (outchanced teams lately). Have to put more in."

But the organization is clearly combing over every facet of its game with a large crowd of experienced eyes heading into tonight's Friday the 13th tilt with the Erie Otters.

There were coaches and ex-NHLers everywhere observing and teaching the Knights during yesterday's practice at the Western Fair Sports Centre.

Seven, if you're counting.

Hunter and assistant Pat Curcio were there to run the show. Goalie coach Dave Rook had his charges out for some early work with forward Justin Taylor shooting at them.

Londoner Craig Billington, Colorado's director of player personnel, was on the ice too, since Trevor Cann is an Avalanche second-round pick. The Calgary Flames did a similar thing three years ago when they sent Tom Webster to practices for one-on-ones with their first-rounder Matt Pelech while he was a Knight.

Ric Nattress, London's defensive consultant, worked with the blue-liners. Dave Warren, the skills development coach, also laced up the skates, as did team co-owner Basil McRae.

So the players have help galore.

Obviously, the goal-scoring burden will be lighter if John Tavares, the OHL's leading scorer, returns after battling shoulder woes. He's been day-to-day since absorbing a big hit from Windsor's Taylor Hall last Friday but practised yesterday.

"We're optimistic about it," Curcio said. "We're watching everyone right now. That's what you do at this time of year. We have three games in four days this week and three-in-four again next week."

The Knights believe they have mentally turned the page on their lost weekend against Windsor, Barrie and Owen Sound. They've watched the tapes. They've discussed it together. There have been multiple meetings. But one thing they haven't done is trump up the importance of a formal players-only meeting.

A "clear the air" session isn't always necessary.

"The kids talk," Dale Hunter said. "They talk."

And the basic theme, according to defenceman John Carlson, is that better times are right ahead.

"This is going to be our month," said the Washington Capitals first-rounder. "We've gone through some bumps along the way and we've battled hard. We had a good week of practice and we're ready to go here. (In Owen Sound on Sunday), I was disappointed in myself for taking a 10-minute misconduct. I know I can't let that happen."

Now they're trying to rediscover the joy of winning.

"Maybe we've gotten away from that (puck possession) style the past couple of weeks," Curcio said. "We played a lot of games (14) in January. We had the flu go through the room and affect 10, 11 players and we've been involved in a lot of one-goal games."

The offence, everyone expects, will return and the power play has to be a catalyst.

Erie, however, has the best penalty kill in the OHL.

"I'm not surprised," Dale Hunter said. "He (Otters head coach and former Quebec teammate) Robbie Ftorek was pretty good at it. They come after you, if they can."


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