Playoffs bestow scoring magic on Varone

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:55 AM ET

Whatever the reason, the playoffs provide fertile soil for sprouting magical episodes.

It's a time that's expected to make stars out of those who are least expected to excel.

Welcome to those magical episodes, Phil Varone.

Varone represents the heart and soul of the London Knights. He has plenty of skill. He supplements that by playing with a burning intensity and desire to win.

Varone was never supposed to fill the net in these playoffs. That was going to be someone else's job. But eight games into the Ontario Hockey League playoffs, he has eight goals and seven assists. He's filling the net.

The playoff trail is well-marked with unexpected exploits.

John Druce was a fourth-line fixture for the Washington Capitals in the early 1990s. One season Dino Ciccarelli got hurt and Druce found himself on the top line with Dale Hunter and Geoff Courtnall. Druce scored 14 goals in 15 playoff games after scoring just eight goals in 45 regular season matches.

Last year Detroit Red Wings' Johan Franzen scored 13 goals in 16 playoff games. Who knows how many he would have scored if he hadn't gotten hurt.

Varone is on that kind of roll.

"There's two parts to what happens," Knights assistant coach Pat Curcio said. "One part is the guys really get motivated because it's an opportunity for a new beginning, a new season in the playoffs. The other part is a lot of teams try to shut down the other team's leading scorer so it gives a chance for the secondary guys to step up and do something special.

"In our guys' case, they've been good players for us all year round. They've just had some ups and downs. They are just now starting to come into their own, getting a lot of confidence."

Varone hopes his roll will continue tonight in Saginaw when the Knights go for a sweep of the Spirit in Game 4 of their Western Conference semifinal.

"Coming into the playoffs, I just wanted to make sure that I was ready, getting the proper sleep, eating properly. And we've been playing unbelievably. We've been playing the best hockey we've been playing all season. That helps," Varone said.

"I've been getting some bounces. For stuff to go good, you've got to be lucky sometimes. I'm scoring goals and when I'm giving guys pucks, they've been putting the puck into the net. It all adds up."

Varone has had a variety of injuries this year, but he's finally getting healthy. He's also driven to prove that even though he isn't the biggest guy, he belongs.

"This is my draft year and I want to go in the second or third round and want to prove that I can do it," he said. "When I put my mind to it, no one's going to take it away from me. That's a big part of (the drive)."

First and foremost, though, is winning. " Whatever it takes to win," he said.

That's on display every shift as he trudges through the muck in front of the net, slams into the corner or takes on a much bigger guy.

Varone comes from Portuguese/Italian heritage but his family loves hockey.

"My dad has such a passion for the game," Varone said. "He never really played anywhere, but he used to tell me that he had to carry his hockey bag on the bus because my grandparents didn't drive.

"All the passion rubbed off on me. It's such a big part of my life I don't know what I'd do without it. It's just in my blood."


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