Knights sign goalie coach

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:34 AM ET

Goalies Michael Hutchinson and Michael Houser can trust one man to give them puck-stopping advice this OHL season.

It's the Dark Knight.

No, Bill Dark isn't really Batman. But for the London Knights this year, he is definitely Net Man.

The 48-year-old Londoner signed a one-year contract with his hometown club after serving as goaltending coach of the Windsor Spitfires the last four years. He recently left the defending Memorial Cup champions and cited the long commute as a major reason for his departure.

"It's exciting to be part of the team that I grew up watching as a kid," Dark said. "I might be dating myself, but I remember my mom and dad taking me to Knights games and watching Dan Bouchard in goal and Gordie Brooks play.

"To be part of this organization, it gives me the chance to stay in the league and to work with the Hunters and with what they've accomplished at this level, I see this as a great learning tool for myself."

The 20-year outside city worker replaces Dave Rook, who signed on this season as goalie coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets and old pupil Steve Mason -- the NHL's rookie of the year. Rook continues to reside in London and run his goalie schools.

Dark, a long-time goaltending coach of the Western Mustangs, was a candidate for the Knights job seven years ago when Rook took it.

He previously played and won several provincial titles in the senior hockey ranks with Exeter, Mooretown and Petrolia. Off the ice, Dark was an outstanding ball hockey goalie for London Provincial Glass, winning a national title in 1990 and earning election into the Ontario Ball Hockey Association's hall of fame.

"Bill has seen the trials and tribulations that these young men go through at the OHL level," London general manager Mark Hunter said. "It wasn't just because of the Memorial Cup, but he worked with Windsor and Andrew Engelage and did a great job. We're counting on him to take that experience and work with two goalies who we really think can play."

The Spitfires and Knights are gearing up for another season of jousting atop the OHL's Western Conference standings. Last month, Hunter and Windsor GM Warren Rychel completed their first trade with each other (the Knights moved down from No. 24 in the import draft for a Windsor third- and fourth-rounder, plus the 58th import pick).

The Dark hiring doesn't change the Rychel-Hunter relationship.

"Bill was OK for us, but we wanted to get someone with more experience," Rychel said. "There has been a lot of interest in the position. We're close to Detroit. We have (NHL contacts). We're slowly going through the process (of hiring) right now."

Windsor remains a formidable foe for London.

Rychel has added extra offence in defenceman Cam Fowler and Slovak forward and Tampa Bay prospect Richard Panik. He's trying to convince Toronto Maple Leafs second-rounder Kenny Ryan to join the OHL team.

The Knights need sharp netminding to counter such moves.

"We have one of the best goalies in the league in (Boston Bruins draft pick and former Barrie Colt) Michael Hutchinson, who is coming off a bit of an off year," Dark said, "and Michael Houser is a young guy who has all kinds of potential, but is new to the league and there's an opportunity there to teach and show him the ropes."

Dark has been down that road before. In Windsor, he helped tutor Spitfire Matt Hackett, now a Plymouth Whalers star.

"I live down the street from Bill," said Hackett, a Minnesota Wild draft pick. "He's fun. I remember him bringing in Andrew Engelage to London one summer and we went golfing together. It stung when Windsor traded me because they told me I was the goalie of the future. But it worked out for the best. I went from playing 20 games to playing 50 this year and I was seen and drafted."

If Dark can have his goalies play the way Hackett did this year with the Whalers, the Knights are in great shape for a title run.


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