Hunter's shuffle sparks another Knights win
RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency
|Knights goaltender Michael Houser makes a save as teammate Olli Maatta ties up IceDogs forward Alex Friesen during Game 4 of the OHL final at the Jack Gatecliff Arena in St. Catharines, Ont., May 9, 2012. (JULIE JOCSAK/QMI Agency)
ST. CATHARINES, ONT. - The London Knights didn't put themselves one game away from a Memorial Cup trip because one or two guys suddenly turned into superheroes.
On this team, they pass the cape around.
It's the only way to explain how London GM and head coach Mark Hunter, uncomfortable in the catbird seat and always unpredictable, decided to remove rookie first-rounder Bo Horvat from the Knights lineup and insert speedy Andreas Athanasiou in Game 4.
And wouldn't you know it, the well-rested NHL draft prospect's second-period burst led to another goal by Game 3 hero Chris Tierney for an insurmountable lead and a tidy 4-1 victory to go up 3-1 in the series before 3,145 Wednesday night at Jack Gatecliff Arena.
"It was exciting," said Athanasiou, who hadn't played since London wrapped up the Western Conference title on rival Kitchener's home ice.
"I didn't find out until game time. I took the warmup (before Game 3 Monday) and didn't play.
"I just wanted to help the team win. You have to stay ready. It's a little tough because you're missing a step and it's hard at first to judge the defenceman's gap, but to get a win in here and be one more away (from a championship), it feels good."
There's only one question left -- what's Hunter going to do for his next magic trick?
"We have a lot of good players we can put in there," he said. "Andreas. Brett Welychka. Bo. You look at everything game-to-game."
Finally, he said he did it because he wanted to keep Horvat fresh.
Meanwhile, his counterpart, Niagara GM and head coach Marty Williamson, shuffled his lines, trying in vain to find some spark to ignite this world junior-laden team that led the OHL in scoring and has a wicked power play.
The IceDogs have nine goals in four games so far against the Knights, and in their biggest game of the year, their only one was scored by hard-working Myles Doan, whose career-best is - you guessed it - nine in a season.
And even that one had to be reviewed before it counted.
"There's no quit on this team," Williamson said. "The desperation is there and the want is there. We just got to get cleaner with our game."
If they're looking for tidy, they only have to gaze at the other side of the rink.
"We did a better job of limiting their chances than we did here (in Game 2)," London goalie Michael Houser said. "We played a good defensive game. That's what you're looking for here.
"We knew the first goal was going to be huge."
For the first time in the series, the Knights struck early.
Ryan Rupert undressed Niagara goalie Mark Visentin in the first period.
He has seven goals in four career games at this ancient rink.
"That was important for us," Houser said. "We knew they were going to come at us and we wanted to play with the lead. It's the first time we had a lead in the series."
London won two of the first three games by storming back from behind. This time, they forced the team that couldn't hold five leads in this series to try digging themselves out of a hole.
The IceDogs couldn't do it.
"I think you see some frustration," Namestnikov said, "(reacting) to little things like offsides."
Niagara has to beat the Knights three straight to win this series. London hasn't lost more than two in a row all year.
E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or follow RyanatLFPress on Twitter.