Tavares trade fallout still shapes Knights

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:07 PM ET

Jared Knight knew how huge the John Tavares trade was when it happened two seasons ago.

The London Knights forward remembers the John Labatt Centre buzz when Tavares got there and the incredible attention the team received when it went on the road afterward.

“I’ll never forget one night in Guelph, John was signing autographs for a crowd of people after the game and he got on the bus and we were pulling away and people were running after the bus,” recalled Knight, a rookie at the time.

“I’ve never seen that before. I’ve signed some autographs, but I’ve never had anyone go after the bus to get mine.”

Tavares scored 42 goals in 38 games, including the playoffs, as a Knight. But for many, the lingering memory of his time here is, injuries and all, that he wasn’t able to bury a back-breaker in the all-overtime Western Conference final against the Memorial Cup champ Windsor Spitfires.

He wasn’t able to score the kind of winning goal he did Monday night against the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.

And if that rankles fans, then it hurts worse to know today that Oshawa has risen as a contender with much help from the ex-Knights and the barrel of picks involved in that blockbuster deal back in January 2009.

The Generals arrive at the JLC again Friday with Christian Thomas, Stumpy’s son, a 50-goal kind of guy. Michael Zador is the go-to goalie so far. Scott Valentine, who received a match penalty for a slew foot in his last outing, has 10 points in nine games.

There is no one left with the Knights from that Tavares trade.

“But when you have a team going for the Memorial Cup, that’s a move you have to make,” said Knights defenceman Michael D’Orazio, who was with Owen Sound when the news of the Tavares deal came down.

“I knew London was one of the teams trying to get Johnny T. The thing that blew me away was that (Michael) Del Zotto was involved, too. I never saw that coming. Never expected that.

“I knew a team would have to pay a hefty price for just John. It’s one of the biggest trades in junior hockey you’ll ever see.”

It happened about five months before Scott Harrington, expected to be a top-three pick in the OHL draft, left a lot of teams wondering if he’d report or go to U.S. college. He ended up a late first-rounder to London and showed up.

“I was in Kingston when the trade went down and I remember going to the (Frontenacs) game because the Knights were in town,” he said. “They had Tavares, Del Zotto, big (Leigh) Salters. They were a team you wanted to see play. It was a big deal.”

This is the year to make another splash like that in the Western Conference. But it will be hard for the Knights to do.

Mark Hunter is still in the process of replenishing his picks from the Tavares trade. This year, he’s still not in great shape, but he will be next year and beyond.

He may not have the bullets to land a big-name scorer if one comes on the market again.

“If that’s the case, I don’t think anyone on this team will complain,” D’Orazio said. “We’ve been playing well lately. We feel like our Kitchener game was our best as a team. We know there’s always moves, but if this is the team we move forward with, I don’t think anyone’s going to be too disappointed.

“There’s a lot of potential here.”

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

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