Knights can throw scare into Spitfires

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:15 AM ET

Since this is the London Knights biggest game of the year, there's no way they will come out flat.

That would be impossible to imagine.

That would be a marked difference to how it's been when the Knights and Windsor Spitfires play. The Knights have gone meekly into Windsor and allowed the Spitfires to do what they want. The Knights lacked fire, intensity and commitment.

Seeing the Spitfires dominance, there appeared no-way, no-how any team -- let alone the Knights -- would draw close to the defending Memorial Cup champions.

But tonight, the Knights can throw a real scare into a team most everyone -- including no doubt the Spitfires themselves -- thought was untouchable.

A win by the Knights will make a race out of the OHL's Western Conference and who would have thought that storyline would be available this late in the season.

There was a line floating around early this season and it went something like this: The only team that could beat the Spitfires was the Spitfires.

Some of that has happened. The Spitfires have undergone changes in fine-tuning their team for a second Memorial Cup run. They've had players in and out of the lineup and been at the centre of controversy with Zack Kassian's 20-game suspension for his hit on Barrie's Matt Kennedy. They've played mediocre hockey.

But it took a turnaround by the Knights to take advantage of that. London is the hottest team in the OHL after doing some housecleaning at the trade deadline. No Phil McRae. No Zac Rinaldo. No Dominic De Sando. Phil Varone ans Matt Ashman are out with injuries. For whatever reason, the team has come together.

Their special teams are getting better. They are scoring more goals and playing with more confidence.

And that, aside from the two points, is why tonight is important.

"It's a big game for our confidence to prove we can beat these guys and play with them," said Knights' goaltender Michael Hutchinson. "The win is important but it's the matchup we are looking forward to in the playoffs. I know we have to win a couple of rounds to get there, but everyone who was on the team last year wants another crack at these guys."

It wasn't much of a confidence booster when the Knights went into Windsor just before Christmas. The Knights were missing Nazem Kadri and McRae, but the Spitfires were without seven of the top players. The Spitfires won 4-2.

They need to show something tonight and it needs to start in goal. That was one area the Knights fully expected they would be better than the Spitfires this year with Hutchinson and Michael Houser.

Hutchinson was 7-6 at one point in the season. In the 20 games since then, he's 17-3.

"I was struggling a little bit," Hutchinson said. "I talked to my agent . . . It was a little bit frustrating but he gave me some great advice. He just told me he thought I was playing too deep in my net and to just take a step out. That's really changed my game and I have a lot more confidence right now."

Hutchinson can be that edge the Knights need. Even if he is struggling, he rarely shows emotion so his team doesn't panic. He has big save capabilities and makes them in critical situations.

"The last few games in Windsor have been really disappointed," Hutchinson said. "With the team we have after the deadline, we want to get out on new footing. Our team is a little tough to read. Other teams I've been on you can tell whether or not you are prepared. But this team, everyone has their own unique way of getting ready for games. I just have to go out and focus and make sure I'm ready to hold the team in for the first 20 minutes . .. if we aren't ready, we can get our legs back after that."

It shouldn't be hard to read whether this team is the real deal or not. The real-deal team will come out and do whatever it takes to win. If they do that, regardless of result, we'll all know there's still life to this season.


Videos

Photos