January 9, 2011
Uphill fight for Knights’ playoff hopes
By RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency
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.