Shoulder surgery ends Knight Varone’s season

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:32 AM ET

Normally, this kind of bad news would spark anger, tears or frustration.

Phil Varone is way beyond that.

"All I could do was laugh," the London Knights forward said. "At this point, what else would I do?"

Varone has another shoulder surgery scheduled for Thursday, the same day his Knights face his old Kitchener Rangers team at the John Labatt Centre in another battle for the second seed in the OHL's Western Conference.

His season is shot.

The Knights' hopes for a long playoff run have taken another hit.

"My shoulder feels fine now," the 19-year-old said before taking another lonely spin on the John Labatt Centre ice before the healthier Knights started to practice, "and that's the toughest part. It's one of those things where I could go along for two or three games but, as it was explained to me, bone chips could form and make it a lot easier for the shoulder to pop out of place again.

"It could become dislocated at any time."

And that would be the constant worry.

"We want to be careful with him," London assistant coach Jacques Beaulieu said. "He's trying to get a pro contract (from the San Jose Sharks) and, if this doesn't get fixed, it could linger his entire career. We don't want that. We want him at training camp with the Sharks next fall and to be ready to go."

Varone knew something was wrong after he barely nudged Saginaw forward Jordan Skellett, a London native, raised his arms and didn't feel well on Jan. 3.

He will have the surgery in London. He plans to travel back-and-forth between his home in Vaughan and here during rehab.

"It's hard to keep away from the team that long," he said. "It's tough to watch and it's different when you're injured but I'm not going to change my role. I'm going to be in the dressing room when the music's on and when there's a time something needs to be said, I'm not going to be afraid to speak up."

Varone's loss will be jarring.

Varone was one of the Knights' best players when Nazem Kadri and Phil McRae were at the world junior. After McRae was traded to Plymouth, Varone (nine goals, 31 points in 31 games) was a natural to assume more of those important minutes.

But every time he started heating up with the stick this season, he hurt his shoulder.

He does, however, take some solace in seeing Justin Taylor scoring by the bushel this season. The Knights' captain returned from shoulder surgery to play out his over-age campaign.

"The Sharks have been great, saying they want what's best for me," Varone said, "and I'd like to be ready for camp and see if I can crack the A (American Hockey League). But if I don't, it's nice to have that one year left in the OHL to come back and play.

"That's what Justin has been able to do."

The Knights are getting short on bodies right now.

Defenceman Matt Ashman has mononucleosis and is out three or four more weeks. Rookie Jake Worrad, who's been solid the last month, has played 17 games, but seven of those count against his junior B card. When he reaches 10 games, he has to return to St. Thomas to play until the Stars are eliminated from the playoffs.

Gritty Tyler Brown, acquired in the McRae deal, was injured in a fight Friday in Kingston.

Daniel Erlich took a controversial hit from Corey Cowick Sunday in Ottawa, but he's been declared fit to play.

After gaining five points in the three-game eastern Ontario swing last weekend, the Knights have plenty of confidence. They're 19-3 at home.

"It's funny to say a team first in the division and second in the conference is an underdog, but it is and that's not a bad thing," Varone said. "I think the guys accept it and they're willing to work hard to get it done. It's said every year, but really, this is a tight team.

"Some of the teams that added players (in trades), we still have some ground on. I don't think our power play will suffer - (Chris) DeSousa is a guy who's not afraid to shoot the puck and score some goals.

"And Jacques (Beaulieu) always comes up with a good plan on the PK. As long as we're blocking shots, we have a great chance."

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KNIGHTWATCH

Thursday: vs. Kitchener, 7 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre

Friday: vs. Erie, 7:30 p.m. at the JLC

Sunday: vs. Peterborough, 2 p.m. at the JLC

Ryan Pyette is a Free Press sports reporter.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca


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