Knights so close, feels like 2005 all over again

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:50 AM ET

LONDON, ONT. - If you didn't know any better, you would have thought it was 2005 again.

Wednesday night in St. Catharines, Dylan Hunter was busy giving an interview. Coming out of the dressing room carrying a stick was Rob Schremp. Wearing a baseball cap low on his head and popping in and out of the room was David Bolland.

You had to look around to make sure the London Knights weren't playing the Ottawa 67's.

But it was 2012 and the Knights were playing the Niagara IceDogs in Game 4 of the OHL final. A little more than two hours later the Knights had defeated the IceDogs to put themselves within one win of a Memorial Cup berth the first time since 2005, when the Knights went on to win the Cup.

The Knights can make it happen Friday at the John Labatt Centre.

When the game was over, Hunter, Schremp and Bolland piled on the bus to head back to London. All three were members of that 2005 Memorial Cup team.

Hunter is now an assistant coach of the Knights. Schremp played professionally in Europe this year. Bolland is a star forward with the Chicago Blackhawks. You can rest assured that there will probably be a few more members of that 2005 squad at the JLC Friday night.

The returning faces, the proximity of a second Memorial Cup berth for the Knights, the almost unexpected rise to the top of this team that wasn't supposed to be here for another year, brings back the memories of 2005.

"I tell them look around the room. You can have great teams, good friends but when you win something together, you have that bond," Hunter said. "It's five, six years after the fact, we still all come back. We meet up in the summer. It's a special bond. It's a friendship you can't really explain."

Having players like Schremp and Bolland who played in the NHL brings the accomplishment of getting to a Memorial Cup into full colour.

The 2005 team and 2012 team are as different as night and day. The 2005 team was expected to win. It was one of the best junior hockey teams in history loaded with veteran players. Even though the Knights were guaranteed a spot in the Memorial Cup as the home team, they went out and set many junior records as they won the OHL title to go "in the front door."

It was a well-known team in the hockey world because that was the year of the NHL lockout. Junior hockey was in the forefront and all the best junior players were left to play junior hockey.

"The teams are a little different. We had a stacked team. We had the weight of the world on our shoulders. Everyone expected us to do it," he said. "When we won, it was a relief. There was so much hype and expectations.

"These guys are so young. Sometimes I look at them and think 'they don't realize how good they are or what they are doing or what (winning is) going to mean. They are just out there, skating around, shooting the puck. It's great."

Hunter realizes that nothing is won yet. Most hockey people live by the saying that the fourth win seems to be the toughest to get. Hunter was part of a team that a year before winning the Memorial Cup lost a Game 7 to Guelph. He knows the value of putting a team away as quickly as possible.

But with only one more win to go, the feeling that goes with getting close doesn't change much, whether you are coach or player.

"I still get the chills and the anticipation," Hunter says. "I'm more nervous now though. When you are playing, you don't think about it. You are just out there playing. You have stuff under your control. You think, 'I will get this one, I will get that one.' Behind the bench, it's nervewracking because it's out of your hands."

It appears behind the bench is where most of the nerves are on this team because not many Knights' players have displayed the jitters on the ice. That's a benefit no doubt of a former player like Hunter sharing the experience of what it is like having lived the dream of winning an OHL and Memorial Cup championship.

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