Kadri: 'Best time of my life'

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:14 AM ET

Nazem Kadri played in the Memorial Cup final for Kitchener last year.

His Rangers memories are fond. He knows how fun the run to an OHL title can be.

"It was the best time of my life," the 18-year-old London Knights forward said. "Going through that brought our team closer together. This year, I look at this group we have here and I'm excited for the playoffs to start. I'd do anything for these guys. That's how I feel about them."

The Knights finished second overall to Windsor in the OHL standings. They topped 100 points for the fifth time in six years and finished one victory short of another 50-win season.

But they had their struggles, too. At one point, the brass sat Kadri down for a game and cut his power-play time. They threatened similar treatment to others if they didn't listen.

It was a rallying point. Kadri, an expected NHL first-rounder this June, became a symbol.

"I think we are better off than we were at the start of the season," he said. "We added some grit (Zac Rinaldo, Leigh Salters). We made the trade with Oshawa. Sure, we had a little bit of a down time but look at our record down the stretch. What have we won? Nine straight?

"We're going in with some momentum here."

But that feeling of moving forward usually starts and ends with the guy who stops the puck. A hot goalie can tame the most powerful offensive team; a bad goal can be deflating.

Trevor Cann has seen what it takes. Three years ago, he was a wide-eyed rookie with Peterborough. His Petes went to the Memorial Cup, beating London to get there. This is his chance to be the money guy.

"Last year, it was only one round (against OHL finalist Belleville) but I felt it was a good experience," the Colorado draft pick said. "I know how big every game is and how series can change in a moment."

When asked the biggest reason for the Knights late-season surge, head coach Dale Hunte didn't hesitate.

"Canner has been better," he said.

Hunter also indicated the Knights have to throw a ton of pucks at Erie goalie Jaroslav Janus. The Slovak proved at the world juniors he can be a game-stealer.

"If you're looking at the other end of the ice and you see the guy makes a big save and think, 'Gee, I better make one, too,' " Cann said, "then you're taking yourself away from your preparation and that's not going to help you.

"You can't worry about that. You can only stop the pucks that come your way."

And players like John Tavares don't come around every day.

There are leaders in the room and on the ice. But then there's No. 61, who can take over games against the best team in the league like he did in London's final visit to Windsor. His hat trick changed the entire Knights-Spits dynamic.

"It could be my last season, I haven't been to the Memorial Cup or the OHL final and I really want to win this year," he said. "Everyone talks about London and Windsor but there's a long way to go before that happens. We have a team that can win. Everyone's close and friends off the ice. We just have to play the way we know we can."

Tavares' last playoff game?

Oshawa was skunked 11-0 by the Belleville Bulls and cast aside in last spring's Eastern conference final. The Generals had been favoured to hold the Memorial Cup tournament, but were passed over for Kitchener.

"It does leave a bad taste in your mouth," Tavares said. "It makes you more determined to get there this year. I've won two world junior golds with Team Canada and this (a club championship) is what's left. We know what we it takes. We have to block shots and fight for the puck.

"Special teams are always important in the playoffs. When we get a power-play chance, we have to take advantage. It's not like when Pat Kane and Gags (Sam Gagner) were here a couple of years ago. Guys have adjusted to the officiating. There aren't as many power plays called as there have been."

Tavares knows he'll be a target. Neutralize the OHL's leading scorer and the odds of winning increase.

That's why one of London's biggest question -- secondary scoring -- will have to pull through. That's why the Knights have tried to find balance between three and four lines rather than put together one powerful unit.

"That's what happened last year," Kadri said. "Teams try to shut down the top (Kitchener) line. For us, it was (Justin) Azevedo, (Nick) Spaling, those guys. You need to find that secondary scoring and we did. It's no different."


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