Varone shoulder woes return

RYAN PYETTE, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 10:01 AM ET

Frustration, thy name is Phil Varone.

The London Knights' hottest scorer left with more shoulder woes during the first period of yesterday's 6-3 loss to the Saginaw Spirit.

The 19-year-old forward had bounced back from a sub-par four-goal first half to his OHL season with a five-goal blitz in three games after the holiday break.

He had been on fire. Heck, the Knights even revamped their top power-play unit by moving him to the high slot to exploit his recent sharp shooting.

But that plan didn't last long.

Varone went to the dressing room quickly. When Knights athletic therapist Andy Scott returned to the bench, he reported to Mark Hunter. The London GM winced.

That didn't look good.

"Upper body," Knights assistant coach Jacques Beaulieu said. "He went in (for x-rays). We don't know the extent of it yet."

Unfortunately, Varone has heard this broken tune in the past.

Two months ago, the San Jose Sharks draft pick posted two goals and nine points in a four-game stretch. He was named the OHL's player of the week.

But the following outing to Brampton, he stepped in to defend Daniel Erlich, who was bodyslammed to the ice by big Stephon Thorne. The large Battalion skater threw down Varone, too. Right on his surgically repaired shoulder.

And after missing three weeks, Varone returned and found his scoring touch had run dry.

When he isn't scoring, he doesn't simply shrug his shoulders and hope a slump will pass.

He looks for answers.

Last year, he endured a spell where he was hitting posts, getting robbed and missing easy tap-ins. He figured the problem was in his head and started reading sport psychology books.

"Phil is so hard on himself," said London defenceman Michael D'Orazio, who knew Varone throughout minor hockey. "But when he was going through a spell, I knew he'd pull out of it.

"He's one of our best goal scorers."

This year, Varone didn't hit the books. He altered his scoring tool.

"I changed the curve on my stick," the Vaughan native said. "I made it more straight to control the puck better and the passes these guys are giving me, I have to put them in. I just think I needed the break to clear my head."

Wipe the slate clean and start over.

It's what the Knights did after the New Year's Eve disaster against Sarnia.

In Saturday's rematch at the RBC Centre in Sarnia, the Sting were down 3-0 and had a pivotal, lengthy two-man advantage in the second period.

They didn't score. Varone provided the dagger with his second goal.

The Knights went on to pot eight in a game that deteriorated in fisticuffs, ill will and Sarnia assistant coach Greg Walters, who was kicked out, yelling back and forth with London coach Dale Hunter about who was on the ice in the final few minutes.

"It's a long season and you'll get games where you lose to a team like that," Varone said. "I think they were just frustrated at the end. Their coach sent out one of their tough guys but we did the right thing. We just skated away because we know we have bigger and better things in store."

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca


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