Spirit goalie slams door on Knights

Joe Pleckaitis of the Saginaw Spirit hits the ice hard after being dumped by Knights defenceman...

Joe Pleckaitis of the Saginaw Spirit hits the ice hard after being dumped by Knights defenceman Jake Worrad in front of London goalie Michael Houser in the first period yesterday at the John Labatt Centre. Saginaw won 6-3. (MIKE HENSEN, The London Free Press)

RYAN PYETTE, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 10:00 AM ET

Michael D'Orazio called the New Year's Eve loss to Sarnia "pretty much a disaster."

So, then, what word do the London Knights use for their latest John Labatt Centre head-scratcher?

They fell behind 5-0 in less than 28 minutes.

They lost their hottest scorer Phil Varone to injury. Leigh Salters left, too, so the Wrecking Crew line reunion was short-lived.

London’s promising young rookie goalie Michael Houser was yanked early. He returned for the third and gave up Jordan Szwarz’s goal that sealed a 6-3 Knights loss to the Saginaw Spirit yesterday before 8,890.

Disappointment, no doubt.

“We didn’t show up,” London forward Dominic DeSando said. “We have to be more consistent. It’s tough to lose guys to injuries but it happens to everyone. The strong teams find a way. They fight through it.”

The big red right leg pad of Saginaw goalie Eddie Pasquale kept the red light behind him at bay.

He went low to stone Zac Rinaldo early in the first. He denied Colin Martin from close range late in the period and again in the second.

He was out to prove a point. He didn’t play well against the Knights in a second-round playoff sweep last spring. If Windsor can get a hold of him for their net, watch out.

“He was player of the game for sure,” London assistant coach Jacques Beaulieu said. “That’s the piece Windsor’s missing right now. We had 19 chances in the first two periods but he shut the door early (until Michael MacDonald roofed a shorthanded breakaway and later set up Dane Fox’s first OHL goal while a man down).”

The Spirit players want Pasquale to hang around past the OHL trade deadline a week from today.

“He’s our guy,” Spirit captain Tyler Murovich said. “When he’s on his game, we seem to play our best.”

And when he’s cooking, the Spirit aren’t afraid to trade in verbal assaults. There is bitterness between these two teams.

Last month, Saginaw amassed 22 games in suspensions from a line brawl where Knights star Nazem Kadri was the target. A few weeks before that, Zac Rinaldo knocked out Saginaw’s Barry Sanderson with one punch.

There was nothing to those extremes, but both clubs were tardy leaving the ice to trade some more insults.

“Murovich was doing most of the talking,” DeSando said, “and he does it only when the refs are around to protect him. He’ll go and pick on a guy like (rookie) Seth Griffith, but he won’t say anything when a bigger and older player come up to say hi.”

Murovich grinned at DeSando’s dig.

“I’m an agitator and I want to get under the other team’s skin,” he said, “but I don’t shy away from anyone. We came out and played pretty good hockey at the start and then with Eddie, we were able to hold them off when London made its charge.”

So far, 2010 has been topsy turvy. All of a sudden, the Knights are winning on the road and can’t bag a victory at the JLC.

Salters should be fine, but if Varone’s shoulder doesn’t come back what do the Hunters make of this development?

The Knights had a 30-8-0-1 record when they acquired John Tavares and Michael Del Zotto a year ago.

Right now, they’re 26-11-0-1.

Not quite the same, but not too far off.

“I believe in the guys in this dressing room,” D’Orazio said. “I came here and knew that the Knights are known for putting together a winning team and we’ve done well so far.

“Guys are nervous because the trade deadline is coming up (a week from today) and they don’t know what’s going to happen. I know a lot of people don’t think we can beat Windsor but you get to a seven-game series and a lot of things can happen.”

Of course, they have to get there first.

Obviously, there will be two tough playoff rounds to play before a Spitfires rematch.

Kitchener, Saginaw, Sault Ste. Marie have all played the Knights tough.

And it doesn’t get easier. Owen Sound just ended Barrie’s 23-game win streak.

The Knights go there Wednesday and D’Orazio makes his first trip back since he demanded a trade from the Attack last fall.

“I don’t think I’ll be booed,” the defenceman said. “I gave my heart to that team for three years. I still follow them and they’re playing well right now. I lived with Marcus Carroll for three years and we’re still great friends.”

GAME GLANCE

Spirit 6, Knights 3

Saginaw goals: Ryan O’Connor, Barry Sanderson, Joe Pleckaitis, Tyler Murovich, Jordan Skellett, Jordan Szwarz

London goals: Michael MacDonald, Dominic DeSando, Dane Fox

Next: The Knights make the trek to Owen Sound for the first time this season to play the Attack on Wednesday at 7 p.m.


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