Knights stand between Spits and defining season

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:01 AM ET

Eighteen years later, Bob Boughner finds himself in a familiar spot.

His team's Memorial Cup dream is alive. But the top prospect in junior hockey -- 18-year-old John Tavares -- stands directly in the Windsor Spitfires head coach's way.

Nearly two decades ago, before the dawn of a gritty NHL career with six different stops, Boughner was a veteran defenceman with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds.

The Boogie Man's 'Hounds were working on the first of three straight OHL titles and a trio of trips to the Cup tournament. But they had to topple Eric Lindros and the defending champion Oshawa Generals first.

There are some series that pass with few memorable moments. That 1991 OHL final wasn't one of them.

It was Lindros' first visit to the Sault since he said he wouldn't play there after they drafted him. There were baby chants and soothers tossed his way.

The Soo won in six games. No one who played in it would forget it.

"If I was to pick, it'd probably be that Oshawa one," Boughner said. "Sherry Bassin was the GM in the Sault and the team owned the rights to (Lindros) and there was a five-player trade between the two teams. Then we played in the league final so it was pretty highly anticipated."

This Spits-London Knights Western Conference final has generated about the most buzz since that 1991 OHL final. It starts tonight in Windsor.

Boughner can see the similarities.

Like those 'Hounds, no one would be surprised if the roster he and Windsor GM Warren Rychel have built challenges for three straight OHL titles. The Spitfires won the league this season and might even be better next year.

But the franchise hasn't been this far in a half-dozen years. This is unmarked territory.

That's why they went out and made a big trade with Memorial Cup finalist Kitchener this year -- for extra depth and added experience.

The Knights countered with the biggest blockbuster since Bassin's bartering of Lindros. They scooped up Tavares, who waived his no-trade deal only for London, and New York Rangers first rounder Michael Del Zotto out of Oshawa.

London has been to five of the last six Western Conference championships. They know the drill.

Before Windsor and Plymouth pummeled each other in the second round, London had some bad blood with Erie -- managed by who else but Bassin -- in its opening playoff matchup.

Both come in prepared for a physical battle.

"Every series is different from year to year," Knights head coach Dale Hunter said. "You've got different players and different teams you're playing so you go out and take one series at a time."

In the pit of their stomachs, Boughner and the Spits know what Tavares can mean to a team. They worked hard to acquire him, too.

Windsor won the first five regular season games against London this year. But in the sixth, Tavares took it over, scored a hat trick, denied the Spitfires a 60-win season and became the league's all-time goal king.

"We both have big name players and a lot of skill," Boughner said. "You have Tavares and (Nazem) Kadri on their side, (Ryan Ellis and Taylor Hall on Windsor). It should be great hockey and a great series for the OHL. The people of Windsor have waited a long time to see (it) and are happy to be in this position.

"London always has sellouts and it's nice that we're going to have one too."

This is a defining season for Boughner and the Spitfires. This series will define Tavares and Del Zotto's half-season in London.

"We knew Windsor had a good team and our goal all along has been to win a championship," Tavares said. "So to get to where we want to go, we know . . . have to win this series."

Unlike 1991, this is not the league's championship series.

George Burnett, a former London Knight, has his Belleville Bulls in the Eastern Conference final a third straight year. They face Stan Butler's Brampton Battalion, who haven't been this far before. Butler used to run the Oshawa Generals. And Burnett? He coached the Niagara Falls Thunder in 1991, the team swept aside by Boughner's Greyhounds en route to meeting up with Mr. Lindros.


Videos

Photos