Knights look to dominate Erie

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:05 AM ET

Schemes, systems, drawing boards and chalk boards have all become an integral part of a coach's repertoires.

But sometimes the road to victory is far simpler.

It's about demoralizing, controlling and dominating.

If you send that message out early, teams that are supposed to win won't allow less talented teams get even a sniff of an upset.

That doesn't mean people won't talk upsets. The London Knights open their Ontario Hockey League Western Conference quarterfinal tomorrow night against the Erie Otters in London.

Much has been made about London and Erie going to overtime in three of their six meetings in the regular season. It's all as if being close is good enough . . . blah, blah, blah.

The Knights won all six.

But coaches understand the danger of overconfidence. That is why they do their utmost to ratchet up the resume of an average opponent.

Whether the Otters actually believe they can win makes little difference. When a better team plays to its capability, upsets rarely happen.

What will make a difference, though, is if the Knights give the Otters tangible proof that they are ripe for the picking. For instance, allowing the Otters to leave the John Labatt Centre with a split would generate quite the splash in the Otter pool.

The Knights want to do themselves a favour and avoid a drawn-out series. The playoffs are a different animal than the regular season. Every team seems to find a second and third grinding gear that makes everything more difficult. That's especially true early in a series when emotions are high and teams actually believe they can win.

Yes, the John Tavareses, Nazem Kadris and Justin Taylors of the world will be headliners in the playoffs. But just as important will be players such as Leigh Salters, Zac Rinaldo and Dominic DeSando.

These are the players who will provide constant pressure on the Otters. They will dominate in the corners, wear down the opposition, offset -- and if possible exceed -- the adrenaline the Otters must have in order to dream of an upset.

"You can have the skill in the world and skill doesn't work unless you work hard," Knights' captain Scott Aarssen said.

"When you are up against a team that finished lower in the standings, they come out in the playoffs and work as hard as they can. They can put up a good fight. You've got to be aware of that. You need to match that intensity and work ethic."

You have to be skilled and talented to win championships. But teams create upsets when they refuse to allow the other team to use that skill and talent. Frustration sets in, mistakes are made and the favoured team starts pressing.

Take control and don't allow that to happen.

"That's where my strength lies," Salters said. "Play a physical style, mix it up in corners, win one-on-one battles.

"Everybody's going a little bit harder in the playoffs. You're not saving it for anything else. Everybody is going 110. You can't take a shift off in the playoffs."

There's a reason Mark Hunter went out to get Salters and Rinaldo. They can be statement kind of players. He needed the kind of presence that would charge up his team when it was needed and soften up the other team as necessary.

This is a team that needs to get off to a good start. They don't need any doubts creeping into their game in the early playoff rounds.

"We have the first two games at home. Our mindset get up two right away and get on them quick," Aarssen said. "Teams can get that sense of life if they steal a game from you. You want to make that statement early."

"We don't want to give them any glimpse of day," Salters said.

Or ray of hope.


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