Uphill fight for Knights’ playoff hopes

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:28 AM ET

When the OHL trade deadline ends Monday at noon, the London Knights will be in the same position they are right now.

Fighting life-and-death just to make the playoffs.

“It was going to be a grind with or without Earl (Daniel Erlich),” assistant coach Jacques Beaulieu said after London’s 6-4 win in Sault Ste. Marie Sunday night salvaged a three-game weekend. “We didn’t try to hide it. We know it isn’t going to be easy.”

Saturday, the Knights sent their longest-serving player and only remaining pick on the roster from the unimpressive 2007 draft — 19-year-old forward Erlich — to Midwest Division rival Guelph for two second-round draft picks (Brampton’s in 2011 and the Storm’s in 2012) and a fifth rounder in 2013.

Erlich made his Storm debut in a 5-4 loss at Saginaw Sunday. He drew two assists and was minus-3.

Not long ago, the Knights thought about boosting their lineup by adding a veteran forward like Taylor Carnevale, who was traded to the Windsor Spitfires from the Barrie Colts Sunday.

But the Hunters decided to load up on second-round draft picks instead of gambling for better odds of a second playoff round this spring.

In many ways, the Hunter Era has finally come full circle.

Rewind back a decade to those early Rick Nash Knights when the team still played at the end-of-the-line Ice House and Lindsay Hofford was the coach (now he’s the Knights’ head scout).

In the Columbus Blue Jackets star rookie’s OHL season (2000-01), the eighth-place Knights squeaked into the playoffs by two points over Kitchener. The following year — Corey Perry’s initial campaign — the Knights finished eighth again, this time a whopping four points ahead of Owen Sound.

Those teams did damage in the playoffs. But that was a pleasant surprise — just like it would be if this year’s team can hold off the Sarnia Sting and the Greyhounds for a post-season berth, then win a playoff round or two.

“We have a lot of road games left and any points we get on the road are going to help towards the playoffs,” Beaulieu said. “I thought the kids played a real good game here. They (the Hounds) made a charge late and I like how our guys were able to handle it.”

Stephen Sanza and Seth Griffith each scored a pair to stake the Knights to a 6-1 lead. Then, Soo forward Jake Carrick scored a natural hat trick in the third — two days after his younger brother Sam buried three in Brampton’s 8-0 pasting of the Knights Friday at the John Labatt Centre.

The Knights also lost 3-2 to Saginaw on Saturday.

Vladislav Namestnikov scored twice in the third period and his late rally would’ve been critical had forward Tyler Brown converted on a penalty shot in the second.

Saginaw goalie Mavric Parks slipped and lost an edge while Brown bore down on him. Instead of cutting hard to his right for a backhand try, Brown tried to shoot on his forehand and Parks, in a last-ditch effort, stuck out his paddle to foil the attempt.

It was Londoner Matt Ashman’s last game with Saginaw. The blue-liner was dealt by the Spirit in a deal that landed Barrie defenceman Dalton Prout.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/ryanpyette


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