Sport without borders

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:00 AM ET

Pat Curcio has travelled the world to play hockey.

The London Knights assistant coach has embraced different cultures, experienced new traditions and is bringing European pro teams to the John Labatt Centre in August as part of the Euro Can Cup.

So when head coach Dale Hunter found a winning forward combo in Nazem Kadri, Daniel Erlich and Phil Varone in Saturday's 8-1 victory at the John Labatt Centre, not everyone immediately noticed the significance of the trio.

But Curcio did.

"Who knew a Muslim, an Israeli and an Italian could work magic together on the ice like that," Curcio said. "I don't know if it's going to lead to world peace or anything like that and the kids certainly don't talk about it, but it's a good story from a world perspective in that three hockey players from these different backgrounds are doing well together."

First disclaimer -- all three are Canadians through and through. Kadri is a Londoner whose heritage is Lebanese. Erlich is from Thornhill with Jewish roots. Varone's hometown is Vaughan and he is of Italian descent.

Erie GM Sherry Bassin, who is Jewish, sees this London line as a story to celebrate and one that needs to be told, especially in the tension-filled Middle East.

"It's a real good example for these countries to look and see that let's get together, get to know each other and see the things we can do," Bassin said. "I guarantee if that happened, there would be a lot more love than there is war. This is sport with no boundaries or definition and these are players who don't think in these (racial) terms.

"The young people don't think that way. Most of the people who start wars are too old to fight them."

The three Knights don't see anything special or historic in their on-ice chemistry or the example they set.

"That never gets brought up in the room at all," Varone said. "We don't think that way. It's just a line that has some speed and some skill with the puck. We we never really played together as a unit before but when we were put together in Game 2, something clicked right away."

Kadri had three goals and five points. Erlich set up his final two in spectacular fashion. Varone has six points in two playoff games.

They combined for 10 points in the Game 2 victory.

Two years ago, Bassin organized a Canadian team that went to Israel for the first World Jewish Ice hockey tournament. It was held in Metulla and the rink was so close to the Lebanon border, you could see the barb-wired fence.

Erlich was a standout for the Canadian team. The tournament is being organized again this year and the Otters boss isn't just extending an invitation to the young Knight -- he's issuing a less-than-subtle demand.

"He's going to have trouble if he doesn't go," Bassin said. "I expect Erlich to be there."

Both will be in Erie tonight. The three Knights practised on the same line yesterday morning, but they know better than to be married to the idea of staying together for long.

"You know how Dale (Hunter) is," Kadri said. "He likes to switch them up. It's a speed line and it worked well right away last game but it won't work against everyone. We'll see how long it lasts in Erie."

They haven't come up with a nickname for the line yet.

"Give me some time and I'll have something for you," Kadri said. "I'm drawing a blank right now."

All three players are keen to be drafted this year in multicultural Montreal, site of the NHL draft in June. For Varone and Erlich, this is the time to catch some notice. Kadri is already expected to be a first-round selection.

"In this series, you have John (Tavares) and Nazem and Ryan O'Reilly on Erie that the scouts are coming to see," Varone said, "and I'm just trying to make my mark and get noticed. I've always considered myself to be at my best in the playoffs and that's what I'm trying to do."

No matter their origin, they're all trying to get to the same dream.

The NHL.


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