Knights win season finale

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 8:12 PM ET

LONDON, Ont. - Dale Hunter knows exactly what it’ll take to knock off the Owen Sound Attack in the playoffs.

Unlikely heroes.

Guys like hard-working forward Dylan MacEachern, who struck twice for two quick goals to lead the London Knights to a 4-3 regular-season finale victory over the struggling Kitchener Rangers before an announced crowd of 8,975 Sunday afternoon at the John Labatt Centre.

MacEachern, honoured before the game as a graduating overager, came to the Knights as a free agent from Niagara for his grit and sweat and spirit — not his scoring touch. He nearly had the hat trick with a minute left but Rangers goalie Mike Morrison stoned him with the blocker.

“It would’ve been nice,” the 20-year-old from Mississauga said. “I only score three goals in the summer.

“Not summer hockey. Beer league. That’s where I get my hat tricks.”

MacEachern was always that quality third-, fourth-line grinder, but he saw major minutes in his half-season here. He wanted to give something back to the Hunters, who brought him in when it looked like his OHL career was done.

He gave his coaches a nice present — momentum heading into the post-season.

“In the playoffs, you can’t just count on your top scorers,” Hunter said. “You need performances like that. You need guys who are your best checkers to step up and contribute a goal here and there.

“That’s how you win.”

MacEachern provided the gift while Igor Bobkov, in what could very well be his last start as a Knight, proved a point.

The Anaheim Ducks prospect stopped 44 shots for the win. It was his best performance of the season and he knows, with the playoffs starting, it’s Michael Houser’s show now.

“It was my first time playing twice (in less than 24 hours),” he said. “I didn’t feel very good about Saturday (a 6-3 loss in Owen Sound) but when Bill (goalie coach Bill Dark) told me I’m playing Sunday, I felt good.

“You get home late from Owen Sound but you still have time. You wake up at 11 and you’re ready. It was nice (to play like this in the last game).”

He limited Kitchener’s Jason Akeson to two assists. The Rangers forward ended the season tied with Ottawa’s Tyler Toffoli, who had four goals and an assist Sunday, as OHL scoring champion.

“Of course, I’ll be ready if I’m needed in the playoffs,” Bobkov said.

Dane Fox, who met with the Knights coaches before the game, is expected to be ready to go again this week. He missed all three games this past weekend after London sent him home as part of team discipline.

“Oh, yeah, he wants to be here,” Hunter said. “Some kids need a wakeup call and we sent him a wakeup call. You set rules for these kids and you expect them to follow them. You work with them — but if the kids miss school a few times and are late for practice a few times, then there’s going to be discipline.”

MacEachern said the Knights will welcome Fox, a promising two-way forward, back to the lineup.

“He’s an asset to our team,” he said.

So is Vladislav Namestnikov, who opened the scoring with his 30th goal of his first OHL season. He helped these Knights avoid being the first London team in eight years without a 30-goal man.

Jared Knight had two assists to lead the Knights with 70 points — the lowest total to top the London roster since Ryan Burgoyne’s 62 points in 1996-97.

One of the guys MacEachern, Stephen Sanza and Co. will have to check on Owen Sound — Joey Hishon — had 86 points in 50 games this year.

“He’s one of the best players in the league,” said MacEachern. “We’re the underdog but it’s good for a young team to be the underdog. The rest of us, we’re playing for our careers.

“When you’re in that position, you have nothing to lose. Wait to see what happens when we win one. That’s all we need and we’ll play off that momentum.”

They’ve only won twice in their past nine games, but that’s better than Kitchener, who enters their series with Plymouth losers of seven straight.

Houser, who served as Bobkov’s backup, gets a full week before facing the Attack. He’ll be fresh.

Scott Harrington, for the same reason, sat out the final regular-season contest. If he played, he would’ve been one of four Knights to appear in all 68 games (Knight, Seth Griffith and Namestnikov).

MacEachern also played 68 games, but he started the season with the IceDogs.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

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