Knights coach says opponent off-base

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:37 PM ET

Dale Hunter scrunched up his face and shook his head.

He wasn’t buying Owen Sound head coach Mark Reeds’ suggestion his “power and influence” was a factor in the London Knights’ 5-2 win in Game 4 of their OHL playoff series Thursday.

He doesn’t believe his presence on the Knights bench as a team owner, president and coach with nearly 20 years of NHL playing experience helped sway eighth-place London to 14 power plays while the first-place Attack had just five in the Western Conference quarterfinal-tying game.

“He’s talking about penalties, but it was pretty even until they took a bunch of them at the end of the game,” Hunter said. “That was the difference right there.”

Some coaches come into the OHL and are shocked to find out what it’s like to face the Hunters in a playoff series. Four years ago, Soo Greyhounds boss Craig Hartsburg was irate after being suspended for flipping a puck into the crowd at the end of a John Labatt Centre playoff game.

Reeds is no stranger to coaches looking for that winning edge.

The 51-year-old played in the late 1970s for the Peterborough Petes, who won three straight OHL titles under first Gary Green and then Mike Keenan.

Reeds later suited up for St. Louis and was a teammate of current Knights GM Mark Hunter, who scored 44 goals in 1985-86 by being smart enough to stand in front of the net and bang in Bernie Federko’s passes. Those Jacques Demers-coached Blues came within a game of going to the 1986 Stanley Cup final.

“It was a real privilege to play with that young group (only one player over 30) and get that close to the final before losing Game 7 to Calgary in the conference final,” Reeds said this week.

In relative OHL terms, the Knights are the “younger” team in this series. Reeds has the veteran crew.

And he has every reason to worry about the number of power plays the Knights receive.

London has scored eight times on 40 chances (20%) with the man advantage in the series. They’ve buried at least one power-play goal in every game so far.

It’s not always pretty but it’s much more consistent than their 19th-place ranking (16.3 %) of the regular season.

“The kids have some confidence on the power play right now,” Hunter said. “It’s important in the playoffs.”

The Attack have gone 0-for-5 twice in their London visits — both losses.

So now, they have to find a way to beat the Knights twice in less than 24 hours — Saturday night in Owen Sound and Sunday afternoon back in London — or face the nerve-wracking prospect of a coin-flip Game 7 at home on Tuesday.

“We’ve been good at home all year,” said Owen Sound defenceman and Port Stanley native Jay Gilbert said. “We play well in our building in front of our fans.”

But the Attack have a goaltending quandary on their minds. They can go the rest of the way with youngster Jordan Binnington, who was yanked after five goals on Thursday, turn to former London first-round Michael Zador or, if he’s ready, march in Scott Stajcer who’s recovering from injury suffered in November.

“Whoever goes in for them, we just have to get more shots on net,” Hunter said. “We didn’t get enough in the first two games there. We had 50 last game.

“That’s what we have to do. It’s a different game there (at the Bayshore). The boards are quick. The puck bounces right out in front so there should be more opportunities.”

Line matching, though, is more of a struggle. Without last change, it’s a challenge to get London captain Stephen Sanza against Owen Sound star Joey Hishon.

In Sanza’s last Owen Sound visit, he left with an injury. He didn’t practise Friday and was unavailable for comment.

But by playing in Game 4, he allowed the Knights to keep a semblance of their old lines. Seth Griffith, who has a series-best seven points, remained with Vladislav Namestnikov and Jared Knight moved up in suspended Colin Martin’s spot alongside Sanza and Dylan MacEachern on the checking line.

“We’ve been close (in Owen Sound) the last few times,” Namestnikov said. “It won’t be easy (with back-to-back games this weekend). We do that a lot in the regular season but the playoffs are totally different. The games are way more physical.

“It’ll be get some rest, eat good food and drink lots of water in between.”

Momentum, Hunter said, is fleeting. “All we did (in Game 4) was tie it up,” he said. “Now, it’s a best-of-three.

“It’s a short series.”

And for coaches like Hunter and Reeds who understand series can be decided on a razor’s edge, it’s time to dig even deeper into their vast bag of tricks.

Power, influence, ref-baiting — you name it. Their teams’ survival depends on it.

Sanza vs. Hishon

Comparison of London captain Stephen Sanza and Owen Sound star forward Joey Hishon through four playoff games:

Sanza Hishon

2 goals 1

4 points 3

plus-1 plus/minus minus-1

4 penalty minutes 12

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca


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