Knights vs. Spits debate hard call

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:51 AM ET

Steve Ferry broke into major junior hockey on a London Knights club that won an OHL record 59 games.

Five years later, he is finishing up against a Windsor Spitfires team with a good shot at winning 60.

So who's better: the powerhouse 2004-05 Knights or the relentless 2008-09 Spits?

"That's a tough comparison," said the 20-year-old Sarnia Sting defenceman from Richmond Hill. "They're different. That London team had a lot of older players and it was the year of the (NHL) lockout, so there were a lot of guys in the league that probably shouldn't have been there (if the pros had been playing)."

Last spring, Ferry's Sting knocked out emerging Windsor in the first round of the playoffs. But he could see what was coming next.

"We had their number, but we knew they were turning into a great team," Ferry said. "You could tell and the really scary part is they could even be better next year."

Perhaps next year the Spits will erase doubt surrounding the "best OHL team ever." It is forever an intriguing debate, albeit an unsatisfying one.

Some think the Montreal Junior Canadiens of the early 1970s were the best. And there were some pretty nifty Toronto Marlies outfits over the years. But today's game has changed dramatically in rules and form, even in the half-decade since Ferry stepped into the league.

In 2004-05, ties were allowed and the shootout hadn't been introduced. This season's Spits are 3-1 in breakaway contests.

So weighing the London and Windsor clubs could be an immeasurable task.

"It's really hard to say from year-to-year how good the league is," Ferry said. "There are different factors (like strength of over-age players and quality of goalies each season). All I know is when I came in at 16, it was way better than anything I had played in before. But then, I hadn't been through what I have now. So I'm looking at both seasons differently.

"They're both very good teams."

Spitfires captain Harry Young said the Knights' record is "in the back of our minds." It's all the league champs have left to chase in a sensational campaign.

How important it is to Windsor will be revealed in the final week of the regular season in mid-March. The Spitfires close with two road games at Kitchener and Owen Sound -- a golden opportunity to rest up stars for the playoffs.

"My year with the Knights, we didn't really think in terms of records," Ferry said. "I didn't find out until later on about them. It was always game-to-game with that team."

The Spitfires have been through a lot. Their captain Mickey Renaud died last year. Their winning helps lift spirits for a city with a slumping economy. They went from a franchise known for Steve Downie vs. Akim Aliu to a desired destination.

But to be in those Knights' class, these Spits have to win the Memorial Cup. Ferry doesn't pull out his ring too often but he knows what it symbolizes.

"I don't think I appreciated it then as I know I will," he said. "It isn't easy. No one hands you it. Obviously, this year, if you can avoid Windsor in the first round, that helps because they're a good team. But you can't be afraid of them. It's playoff hockey. Anything can happen."

Even against an all-time team.

AROUND THE OHL

Ferry has five game-winning goals -- the most by an OHL defenceman this season. Brampton F Cody Hodgson leads the league with 10 . . . Defending OHL champion Kitchener needs to play like world-beaters to make the playoffs. Five of the Rangers' final nine regular-season games are a home-and-away with Windsor and London and a tilt against surging Plymouth. If they don't make it, they won't be alone. Three years ago, the Peterborough Petes won the OHL title, then missed the playoffs in 2006-07 . . . And speaking of the Petes, their late playoff push is being sparked by over-age forward Tony Romano. The New York native figured in on three straight goals to force overtime and gain a point against Oshawa Saturday. Two days before, he scored with 33 seconds left to tie Ottawa, then bagged the overtime winner to beat the 67's . . . Maybe this is why the Erie Otters have the second-worst power play in the OHL: they practise against the league's best penalty-kill every day.

Hard to get momentum and confidence going that way . . . The league-champion Windsor Spitfires are the only team that hasn't lost in overtime yet. Division rival Plymouth is the only club that hasn't dropped a shootout . . . It's not just the teams in the basement working through personnel issues down the stretch. Belleville D Shawn Lalonde briefly left the Bulls after a disagreement with Bulls coach George Burnett.


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