The email message came in about noon yesterday to captain Justin Taylor and the rest of the London Knights.
“It was from (assistant) GM Jim McKellar and it said, ‘It’s over — this is your team,’” Taylor said. “The trade deadline passed. For some of the guys with nerves, it was gone.
They could relax.”
No more deadline day worry.
Phil McRae had been shipped to the Whalers. But silky Nazem Kadri and big goalie Michael Hutchinson remain Knights.
Hard-hitting Zac Rinaldo (Barrie) and Dominic DeSando (Sault Ste. Marie) are gone, but scoring and sandpaper was returned in Chris DeSousa and Tyler J. Brown, who has the flu and missed his first Knights practice yesterday at Western Fair.
“You hear that we were sellers or that we’re underdogs now and you look and we’re still fourth (overall) in the OHL and at the top of our division,” Taylor said. “Barrie and Windsor made a lot of moves to improve. Plymouth, too. But underdogs have their day, too. Look at Sudbury (in 2007 going to the OHL final as a sixth seed).
“I like this team we have here. I definitely think the goal right now is to get back to where we were last year (the Western Conference final against Windsor) and see where it goes from there.
“That’s what the expectation is, for sure.”
The experience still on board, Taylor said, will be key.
Kadri has already played in a Memorial Cup and world junior final. A few years back, Hutchinson, when he was with Barrie, backstopped the Colts to an upset series win over heavily Brampton.
“I’m really content,” Kadri, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ first rounder, said. “I wanted to finish up my junior career at home here in London and I’ll get that chance. We lost Phil, who is a good player and who became a great friend, but we still have a team here we feel is capable of going on a run.”
And it’s not like London didn’t try to bolster the blue line.
They went after prized rearguard Alex Pietrangelo. Right to the end, Mark Hunter kept after Russian import and Islanders prospect Anton Klementyev, who plans to stay in the American Hockey League even though he rarely plays there.
Still, the Knights have something frontrunners Barrie and Windsor don’t. A head start on chemistry.
The Colts and Spitfires changed their lineups so much, they will spend the last 20 regular-season games searching for the right combinations.
The Knights know all about that.
They had to go through it last year following the John Tavares-Michael Del Zotto face lift.
“You have to manage the minutes, every situation and above all else, the egos,” London assistant coach Jacques Beaulieu said. “I went through that in Saint John (last year). We had to do it (in London in 2005). You have these guys who are used to being first-line players and you might have to ask them to play a third-line role.
“It’s not easy. You have guys playing for pro contracts and everyone wants their cookies.”
If not handled correctly, all that rented talent could blow up in a GM and head coach’s faces. That could open the door for pretty good club already largely put together — like London, Kitchener or Mississauga — to speed right by.
“I would (go to war with these guys),” Taylor said. “Don’t go to sleep on us. We’ve got (injured) Phil Varone. We’ve got Naz and Michael (Hutchinson). We’ve got young guys who wanted the chance to play in big situations and now, some of them will get the chance.
“We can do some damage.”
Mark Hunter’s deadline moves will hurt the Knights in little ways. McRae was a terrific faceoff man and Rinaldo and DeSando improved London’s penalty killing.
“We’re going to need guys like Chris DeSousa and Stephen Sanza to step into some of those situations for us,” Beaulieu said. “We’re going to need them to fill those roles.”
And if you’re only as good as your last game, then the Knights need a lot of work heading into their eastern Ontario swing.
The last one on Saturday against Erie was a horror classic — up 7-2 with 12 minutes to go and needing Kadri magic to win it in a shootout that should never have happened.
“There aren’t any words for it,” Taylor said. “It was one of those things. The momentum changed and we made mistakes.
“But in the end, I think the better team won.”
Now, there’s only one question left to answer for these Knights.
Can they still get to those better teams in the late playoff rounds — and beat them?
OHL DEADLINE DEALS
London and Sarnia movement
London sends Phil McRae to Plymouth for Tyler J. Brown, Brampton’s 3rd round 2010, Plymouth’s 4th round 2010, 5th 8th round 2012
London sends Zac Rinaldo to Barrie for Chris DeSousa and conditional 3rd round in 2013
London sends Dominic DeSando to Sault Ste. Marie for 4th round 2010 and conditional 4th round 2011
Sarnia sends Adam Courchaine and Brett Appio to Erie for a fifth round 2010, 3rd round 2011, 4th round 2011
Sarnia sends Jordan Hill to Saginaw for Joe Pleckaitis, Kyle Flemington, Guelph’s 4th round 2010, Saginaw’s 6th round 2011
Sarnia sends Joe Pleckaitis to Kingston for 5th round 2011
Sarnia sends Belleville’s 14th round 2010 to Ottawa for Peter Stevens