Knights 'like matchups with Kitchener:' Kadri
RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency
Nazem Kadri took a quick peek at the TV and liked what he saw.
The Kitchener Rangers, who dispatched the Saginaw Spirit in six games with a 4-2 win Sunday, loom for the London star and his Knights teammates in the second round of the OHL playoffs.
“I caught the tail end of it,” the Toronto Maple Leafs first rounder said. “Saginaw almost came back. There are some matchups you like better than others and we like our matchup with Kitchener a lot.
“It’s going to be fun. It’s a great rivalry.”
The series will begin Thursday at the John Labatt Centre before shifting to the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium for Game 2 on Friday.
The Knights went 5-1 against Kitchener in the regular season. They were seven wins and 10 points better in the race for the Midwest Division title and the Western Conference’s second seed.
Kadri, of course, played his first two OHL seasons with Kitchener and helped the Rangers get to the 2008 Memorial Cup final on home ice. He was the last piece in the Steve Mason deal and became a Knight during that post-Cup summer in the kind of swap that isn’t allowed in the league any more.
“It’s like a second home to me,” Kadri said. “It was bittersweet. I got to play in the Memorial Cup but I didn’t want to leave (Kitchener) at first.
“But looking back, I got to go home (to London) and play here and it worked out for the best for me.”
Still, this is another special stop on the final leg of his junior hockey career.
He knows he’ll play at least two more games at the old Aud where he started as a gangly 15-year-old first round pick of the Rangers.
He knows he’ll try to tempt old teammate Dan Kelly, the Kitchener captain and over-age defenceman always in charge of shutting him down, with his patented toe drag move again.
“It’s always exciting to go there and play against them,” he said. “I’m looking forward to it.”
He won’t be alone.
London veteran defenceman Steve Tarasuk officially has a fire in his belly. He and Phil Varone, who’s recovering from shoulder surgery, were part of that Mason deal, too, that sent them from the Rangers to the Knights ahead of Kadri.
On Kitchener’s side, over-age forward Chris MacKinnon played seven games with London last year before GM Mark Hunter shipped him to the Rangers. He’s been one of the OHL’s best point-getters since the move.
While the Knights and Rangers tangle, the Windsor Spitfires will again take on the Plymouth Whalers.
Dandy Plymouth goalie Matt Hackett, a Londoner, and former Knight Phil McRae (11 points in a first-round win over Sault Ste. Marie) get another shot at the defending Memorial Cup champions.
The big, bruising Whalers took the Spits to six games last spring.
For London and Kitchener, this is only their third playoff meeting in the past 17 years.
The Knights beat the Rangers 4-1 in the 2005 Western Conference final on the way to their lone Memorial Cup title. The series is best remembered for top scoring stars and future NHL standouts Corey Perry and Mike Richards squaring off and fighting at centre ice in London.
Previously, the Knights beat the Rangers in a seven games in 1993.
The rivalry has been, for the most part, been a regular season one.
In 2001, the Knights grabbed the eighth and final Western Conference playoff spot in their last game ahead of the ninth-place Rangers.
Since the Knights and Rangers were placed in the same division for the 2002-03 season, no other team has won the Midwest.
London has six division titles during that stretch, one OHL title and that home-ice Memorial Cup. Kitchener has two (2003, 2008) and won the league final both times, including the Cup in 2003.
Knights vs. Rangers
(Best-of-seven OHL Western Conference semifinal)
Game 1: Thursday, 7 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre.
Game 2: Friday, 7:30 p.m. at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium
Game 3: Monday, April 5, 7 p.m. at the JLC
Game 4: Wednesday, April 7, 7 p.m. at the Aud
x — Game 5: Thursday, April 8, 9 p.m. at the JLC
x — Game 6: Saturday, April 10, 7 p.m. at the Aud
x — Game 7: Monday, April 12, 7 p.m. at the JLC
(x — if necessary)