Not easy, but Spits in seven

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:00 AM ET

For those with no rooting interest in the series, the overriding hope is simple: The much-anticipated London-Windsor Western Conference final lives up to its hype.

If it does, Major junior hockey fans with or without a home-town interest will be treated to one of the finest series they've seen in decades.

The Spitfires and Knights kick off the best-of-seven series tonight in Windsor.

The analysis of these rivals is to the point of being overdone.

Dissect the talent and you'll see the abundance on both teams. Knights defencemen John Carlson and Michael Del Zotto are already first-round National Hockey League picks. Greg Nemisz is a first-round pick for the Spitfires.

Knights' John Tavares will likely go No. 1 overall this year. He'll be followed in the first round by teammate Nazem Kadri and Spitfires' Ryan Ellis. Windsor's Taylor Hall has already been given the inside track on being the No. 1 pick in 2010.

Talent is not an issue.

Style of play, good goaltending, ability to handle pressure, all the technical stuff needed for success everyone goes on about is evident to most hockey observers.

But this series is special, not just because of the quality of the teams but everything that surrounds them.

Don't be surprised by anything that happens.

The Spitfires are favourites and the better team. They will win but it won't be easy. Take them in seven games.

That said, it wouldn't come as a massive shock if the Knights upset them.

That's what happens when a series will be rocket-driven by emotion.

"You don't look to the games before this, you just look to the series coming up," Nemisz said. "When you play London, you can feel something different in the room. This is going to be tough. Every game is going to be tough."

Windsor and London have never shown particular affection for each other. While the rivalry wasn't much of a rivalry in recent years with London dominating, the ressurgeance of the Spitfires franchise under owners, coach and general manager Bob Boughner and Warren Rychel has brought about the rebirth of the rivalry.

Boughner and Rychel have used Mark and Dale Hunter's franchise as a blueprint for their own and are publicly very grateful for whatever aid the Hunters have given them.

That's where it ends. Windsor is tired of being embarrassed by the Knights. In six playoff series, the Knights have won five with the Spitfires last winning in 1991. The Knights have won nine playoff games in succession against the Spitfires.

Like two dogs marking their territory, the Spitfires and Knights will be at each other's throats.

It will be blue-collar town versus white collar. It will be the new power versus the old power.

For all the nice-nice between the two teams publicly, there is no nice-nice on the ice.

The Spitfires are more than a hockey team. They've become a symbol of hope and rebirth for a city.

Flash back to the Knights of 2005. That Memorial Cup-winning team represented a city that had earned the reputation for not winning anything, for choking at the appropriate times and for not being recognized for much of anything.

The Knights win changed a lot of that.

Windsor has been hit extremely hard by the recession with an unemployment rate of almost 14 per cent and autoworkers pensions in jeopardy. It's a city that does not have much to cheer about except the Spitfires.

The Spitfires ownership group of Boughner, Rychel and Peter Dobrich recently won a Windsor business award for positive economic contributions and image in the community.

"It's more than just hockey," Rychel said. "Unemployment here is at an all-time high but we had 300 people in line on an Easter Sunday to buy tickets.

"Our players realize they are playing for the City of Windsor and the people, they really do. They want to do something good for the city in the bad economic times here."

As for the Hunters, they don't like to lose to anybody, let alone a heated rival.

There's so much pride at stake, so much emotion, so much talent on display.

It's can't miss theatre.


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