Goalies take centre stage

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:24 AM ET

From London to Windsor, these are two different crease journeys.

Two paths to the same hockey prize.

London goalie coach Dave Rook, who doesn't leave anything to chance, will speak with Windsor counterpart and old acquaintance Bill Dark, but not about the Knights-Spitfires series starting tomorrow.

"I don't want to give them any information they might be able to use," Rook said.

"We'll talk about what we're going to do on the golf course this summer," added Dark, also a Londoner.

This much is fact: one of them will get to the links earlier than the other. Goaltending will be that big of an issue in this best-of-seven OHL Western Conference final.

Secrets are best kept close to the vest, even among guys who used to run goalie schools and clinics together and, at one point, interviewed for the same job with the Hunters.

"I was with Western at the time when the Knights goaltending coach opening came up and Dave was lucky enough to get it and his record speaks for itself," Dark said. "Ryan MacDonald. Adam Dennis. Steve Mason.

"When the Windsor opportunity came up, I interviewed with Moe Mantha. I was fortunate to stay on with the current (ownership) group and it's been a great experience working with them."

Dark went down the highway for his winning opportunity. The same thing happened for Trevor Cann.

The red-headed netminder became a Knight this season on a reputation as an established goalie and a second-round pick of the Colorado Avalanche.

The 20-year-old didn't know Rook at all but knew Mason, a fellow Oakville native and standout ex-Knight. Cann replaced an injured Mason at a world junior tryout two years ago.

"I knew from Mase that coaching wasn't going to be an issue," Cann said. "Dave knew I was open to anything that would help my game and it's ended up working out extremely well."

Cann has been at the top of the mountain in these playoffs, winning eight of nine. But it wasn't always that way.

When he hit a rough patch after Christmas, Rook didn't chalk it up to a run of bad luck.

He doesn't believe in it.

"When that happens, you need a strong work ethic and attitude to overcome it," Rook said. "Fortunately, Trevor does. He's a veteran and he worked his way through some things. I always tell him playing goal in London is the acid test. It's the closest you're going to get to the pros before you get there."

Like MacDonald, Dennis and Mason before him, Cann heard the moans on every questionable goal.

He turned them into motivation.

"When I was struggling there after the break, I wasn't moving well or reading the play," Cann said. "We really worked hard on that. It got better. Beating Windsor (4-3 on March 8) was a big stepping stone for us. I watched them (against Plymouth) I know they're capable of getting a lot of shots.

"We've been practising for that."

But it's a night-and-day situation for the guy in Dark's crease -- Andrew Engelage, who will start Game 1, and Josh Unice if he falters or gets hurt.

The Spitfires are the league champions. They only give up a handful of scoring chances each game.

"In minor hockey, I was used to facing a lot and each year here, we've got better at it," said Engelage, the former midget AA goalie from Oshawa. "This year, you might only see five good chances a game but you have to step up. You're only as good as your last game and have to keep the ball rolling."

That's been an on-going battle these playoffs. Engelage, who topped Mason's single-season wins record this year, was yanked a couple of times in the Owen Sound series. Unice, the Chicago prospect who led Kitchener to the Memorial Cup final after Mason was injured, started against Plymouth but soon surrendered the net.

"Bill's the go-between on those calls and sometimes, you want to kill the messenger, but I think he handled it well," Engelage said. "Uni and I both want the net. That's just the way it is. Once you're in there, you want to be that guy. Against London, they're highly-skilled and, especially on the power play, they want to work it around and we have to be careful to limit their chances."

Against the Whalers, Londoner Matt Hackett -- an old Dark protege with Windsor -- was bombarded by the Spits (who totalled 315 shots in six games) and played magnificently.

"It's bittersweet to see a kid you worked with beating you," Dark said. "And to show you the kind of kid Matt is, he's coming back down to watch this series. He's excited to see Windsor and London. He lives and breathes hockey."

So do these two goalie coaches.

Cann turned the whispers into motivation.

"When I was struggling there after the break, I wasn't moving well or reading the play," he said.

"We really worked hard on that. It got better. Beating Windsor (4-3 on March 8) was a big stepping stone for us. I watched them (against Plymouth). I know they're capable of getting a lot of shots. We've been practising for that."

It's a night-and-day situation for the guy in Dark's crease -- Andrew Engelage, who will start Game 1, and Josh Unice if he falters or gets hurt.

The Spitfires are the league champions. They only give up a handful of scoring chances each game.

"In minor hockey, I was used to facing a lot and each year here, we've got better at it," said Engelage, from Oshawa. "This year, you might only see five good chances a game but you have to step up. You're only as good as your last game and have to keep the ball rolling."

That's been an on-going battle these playoffs. Engelage, who topped Mason's single-season wins record this year, was yanked a couple of times in the Owen Sound series. Unice, the Chicago prospect who led Kitchener to the Memorial Cup final after Mason was injured, started against Plymouth but soon surrendered the net.

"Bill's the go-between on those calls and sometimes, you want to kill the messenger, but I think he handled it well," Engelage said. "Uni and I both want the net. That's just the way it is. Once you're in there, you want to be that guy. Against London, they're highly-skilled and, especially on the power play, they want to work it around and we have to be careful to limit their chances."

Against the Whalers, Londoner Matt Hackett -- an old Dark protege with Windsor -- was bombed by the Spits (who totalled 315 shots in six games) and played magnificently.

"It's bittersweet to see a kid you worked with beating you," Dark said. "And to show you the kind of kid Matt is, he's coming back down to watch this series. He's excited to see Windsor and London."


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