Melee overshadows Erie win

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:41 AM ET

ERIE, PA. -- The thin glass divider separating the London Knights' bench from the Erie Otters hung like a half-submerged schooner about to sink into a murky abyss.

Old Tullio Arena can no longer handle the bad blood pouring between these two clubs.

The Otters pulled back into the OHL Western Conference quarterfinal with a 4-0 win in their first home playoff game in four years before 3,089 last night. But their win just underscored a stunning melee between the benches with eight minutes left that nearly crushed the only security measure in place -- an old pane of glass.

London assistant coach Pat Curcio was tossed after an Otter threw a water bottle at his team's bench during the scrum. Knights forward Daniel Erlich -- the smallest player on either team -- left the ice bent over in pain after what his club claimed was a vicious slash to his throat by big Erie forward Luke Gazdic, who was also shown the door.

"It was one the dirtiest things I've seen," London forward Jason Wilson said. "There was no need for that. He was angry about being hit and came back to slash Daniel. From where I was, that's what started the whole thing."

Gazdic was left trying to defend his honour. He said the tape shows it was evident he was hit from behind by Erlich in the leadup to the fireworks.

"Jason Wilson can say whatever he wants, but I'm not a dirty hockey player," Gazdic said. "Big and strong, yeah, but I'm not dirty."

The first two games featured several high-profile hits from behind. London's Zac Rinaldo is still suspended indefinitely (his punishment will reach three games in tonight's Game 4) and his departure was expected to cool down the on-going reckless body contact.

It didn't.

"There's not supposed to be any more of those hits but there are," said Curcio, who was sent off for questioning the officiating. "The refs were out there, but weren't doing anything (during the scrum). I think we need them to watch what's going on because (when the glass fell) that had a chance of turning ugly."

London was shut out by Slovak star Jaraslov Janus. It was only the second time the Knights' high-octane offence has failed to convert; Sarnia's Dan Spence slammed the door on Nov. 1.

But even that, the Knights figured, was a tainted accomplishment. Down 2-0 early in the third, Wilson stuck out his stick and leg and the puck bounced off him into the net.

After a lengthy review, the goal was disallowed. The Knights felt he would've had to be the second coming of Pele to pull off that kind of play.

"I'm not that good a soccer player," Wilson said. "That's why I play hockey. I think that changed the momentum of the game. Their crowd really got into it and it kind of went from there."

"I can guarantee on my life there's no way Jason Wilson directed that puck in with his skate," Curcio added. "He had his back turned. That should've counted and it would've changed the course of the game.

"In London, that's a goal."

So would a more effective London power play. The Knights went 0-for-9 with the man advantage and surrendered short-handed goals to Brandon Biggers -- on a breakaway -- and Shawn Szydlowski.

Dale Hunter tried to pull the goalie on a late power-play attempt, but Otters captain Zack Torquato deposited his second goal into the empty net.

"We've had the best penalty kill in the league all season," Gazdic said, "and we know they've had one of the top power plays so that big to keep them off the board like that."

Erie GM Sherry Bassin just grinned when asked if he would consider extra security near the benches for tonight's game -- or at least a thicker pane of glass dividing the teams. Arena security had to get involved when one spectator tried to climb the glass behind the Knights bench. He was removed from the building.

"All I know is the London Knights are a very good team and the series is 2-1," he said. "They can say whatever they want. We just have to come back and play hard and do our talking on the ice."


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