BRAMPTON — Michael Houser took his shot.
Up by two in the final minute, the London Knights goaltender corralled the puck, aimed at the empty net and launched it high over a Brampton defenceman in an effort to score his first goal.
It went about 10 feet wide.
But the verbal barrage that followed from his teammates kept hitting its target all the way into the dressing room after a 4-2 victory over the Battalion before 2,027 at the Powerade Centre.
“Tinner (Jarred Tinordi) and I were joking around about which one of us would be the first to score a goal this year,” said Houser, who, according to D-man Reid McNeill, styles himself an offensive goaltender. “I went for it and missed and he called me selfish.
“He was out there too. He thought I should’ve passed it to him.”
The rest of the Knights shook their heads in mock disapproval. How could a goalie, despite stopping 37 shots, still not dish off to one of his thirsty-for-a-tally defencemen?
“Selfish,” a bunch shouted.
Hey, they have to find something to criticize these days. The Knights have won seven of nine since the OHL trade deadline and are just three points out of fifth in the tight Western Conference standings.
But they didn’t rely on a heart-stopping comeback. This time, they had to shut down a rally.
“It’s a lot more fun playing from ahead than behind,” Houser said.
The Knights led 3-0 when the Troops buried two in 24 seconds midway through the third period.
Enter Cody Donnay, the d-man who sat for nearly two months before finally getting his chance to get back in the lineup last week — but as a forward.
He buried the insurance goal to put the game away. He never once thought during all those games of being a healthy scratch that it was time to go home to Michigan.
Even for the team that never quits, he had the biggest reason to go elsewhere.
“I’m not a quitter,” Donnay said. “I never quit anything in my life. I didn’t want to go down (to Junior B). I wanted to stay up here and practise hard and wait for my chance again.”
Dane Fox had two goals for the second straight game. The third member of their line, Stouffville callup Tyler Ferry, had three assists.
“We didn’t think we’d go out there and score goals,” Fox said. “We just wanted to keep it simple. (Ferry), he played defence last game and now forward and that’s not easy to do and Cody, I have a lot of respect for what he did.
“I know what that’s like. I was there last year (sitting out). It’s the hardest thing in hockey to do. He’s intense, he doesn’t smile very much but it’s nice to look over and see him smiling now.”
The Hunters knew it wasn’t an easy situation for the older Donnay brother (Troy is still injured and out of the lineup). All head coach Dale Hunter kept telling him was to work hard in practice.
“He wanted to get better every day,” London GM Mark Hunter said. “I wouldn’t want to play against a guy like that.
That feeling is spreading. The Knights know their March schedule is deadly and every point they secure now is one less needed down the stretch.
Blocking shots has become their business card. Everyone was doing it and rookie defender Mike Moffat had to twice shrug off the pain after getting nailed by the puck.
“Brampton took a lot of point shots,” Houser said. “The guys did a great job getting in front of pucks and helping me out.”
That kind of sacrifice is saving goals. In a mad scramble late in the second, Houser was down and out with the puck on the doorstep before Tommy Hughes came to the rescue.
“Tommy stretched out there and made a great play,” Houser said.
And after all this effort, the goalie still never tried to help out one of his guys in the goal department?
The Knights know, through all the jokes, that Houser has earned the right to take that shot.
And this under-rated, left-for-dead team — one that has been re-energized by its youth — is giving itself a great chance to do something special this season.