Michael Houser was a third-period monster but the message he sent wasn’t aimed at the Windsor Spitfires or their United States world junior goalie Jack Campbell.
Houser and Campbell are old foes and, more recently, good friends.
“Jack played (midget in Detroit) for Compuware and I played for Little Caesars,” the London Knights goalie said after stoning Spit-after-Spit in a 3-2 win before 8,975 Monday afternoon at the John Labatt Centre.
“We played a lot against each other. We went to (U.S. junior) summer camp together. It’s nothing new and I don’t get up more for him than I do any other game.”
Instead, Houser hoped his 18-save, stand-on-his-head final period would serve notice to the rest of the league.
“Everyone’s talking about Owen Sound and Saginaw and Kitchener right now, but I look at that Windsor team and us and there’s some depth there,” the 18-year-old said. “They’re going to be dangerous heading into the playoffs and I think we will be, too.”
In other words, no one should be dancing in the streets when they draw the Knights or Spitfires in the first round of the playoffs.
One scary thought for opposition shooters: Houser is a goalie who learns from his mistakes.
Ten days earlier, the Spits beat him a few times on a few wraparound plays.
Not this time. He slammed the door on Zack Kassian in tight. He frustrated the dangerous Taylor Carnevale.
When Windsor really had its chance to make London sweat with a Ryan Ellis-engineered 5-on-3 for 91 seconds in the third period, Houser was at his absolute best.
“Housie was great,” said London forward Jared Knight, who scored twice on Campbell, including the second-period winner. “I think it’s not really a rivalry, but healthy competition between him and Jack.”
The Knights have known this fact since the schedule came out last summer: win early because it gets awfully tough late. The final month is a bear.
Front-running Saginaw and Owen Sound visit the JLC later this week. The Knights had to prove they could at least beat Windsor, who had already spanked them twice on home ice.
“It’s huge,” Knight said. “They’re Windsor (the two-time defending Memorial Cup champs) and we know whenever we play them here or in their rink, we’re going to be up for it.
“It’s always a big one when we play.”
And they aren’t, Campbell notes, about to get any less important in the future.
“Windsor and London, we’re both pretty young right now but you could see the pieces to the puzzle are in place,” Campbell, the Port Huron puckstopper, said. “These teams are going to be good in the years to come. It’s going to be exciting for me and Michael in these playoffs and the next few seasons.
“He’s a guy I got to know and I really value our friendship.”
This might be goodbye for London to Windsor star Ellis, whose final JLC memory could be of Houser’s right leg pad turning away one of his slappers during crunch time.
The blue-liner, originally from Belmont, won a gold medal with Team Ontario on this ice four years ago at the World Under-17 Hockey Challenge. He led the first Spits Cup crew over the Knights in the unforgettable five-overtime Western Conference final two years back.
But the Knights worked on him and his D-mates by flipping the puck past them for a lot of odd-man rushes while the Spits tried to cheat in the offensive zone. London could’ve buried Windsor earlier if they finished more.
It was quite a family-oriented day.
Kerby Rychel, for one, took exception to Matt Rupert’s big neutral zone hit on Saverio Posa in the second period. The two rookies dropped the gloves with Kerby’s dad Warren, the Spitfires GM, watching from the press box, and Rupert’s twin brother Ryan on the Knights bench.
And the Knights family, for the second time this year, might have an on-ice leader. They are close to naming a captain and it could happen early this week.
Stephen Sanza, who scored the Knights’ first goal on a nifty wrap, is the favourite.
Knights 3, Spitfires 2
London goals: Jared Knight (2), Stephen Sanza
Windsor goals: Jake Carrick, Tom Kuhnhackl
Next: The Knights are home to the West Division-leading Saginaw Spirit on Thursday at 7 p.m. at the John Labatt Centre.