May 18, 2012
Resilient Knights believe in each other
By RYAN PYETTE, QMI AGENCY
SHAWINIGAN, QUE. - Austin Watson figures he'll impart some Memorial Cup-winning wisdom to his younger London Knights teammates.
But there's one thing the Nashville first-rounder hopes to keep to himself -- how to come back from an 0-2 start and win it in the historic fashion his 2009 Windsor Spitfires did in Rimouski.
"You don't want to get yourself in that kind of hole," the Knights forward and OHL playoff MVP said. "But I know from experience that if you lose out of the gate there's no reason to hang your head because it can be done.
"I think we have a great team and there's no reason we can't win it all."
The Knights open their tournament with back-to-back games this weekend -- Saturday night against defending Cup-champion Saint John, followed by host Shawinigan, which shook out its month-long rust Friday against Western league champ Edmonton.
London plays its three round-robin games in four days.
"If we play our game, we should be in good shape," said London defenceman Brett Cook, expected to be the Knights' lone overage player to dress. "You really don't know much about these other teams but we came here playing well (winning four in a row in the league final against Niagara). We believe in each other and when you have a good goalie and a (strong defence) like we do, it gives you a confidence boost."
The Saint John-London game is a clash of recent major junior hockey dynasties.
Sea Dogs defenceman Nathan Beaulieu grew up around the Knights when they routinely would win 50 games a season and a Cup title in 2005. His Saint John team has reeled off three consecutive 50-win seasons and won a Cup last year.
"The Hunters are like family to me, I got to see first-hand what made them great and what their expectations were when my dad (Jacques) coached there," the Strathroy, Ont., native and Montreal first-rounder said. "(Assistant coach) Dylan Hunter and Tucker, Dale's sons, are like brothers to me.
"I was a Washington (Capitals) fan during the playoffs this year and (the Knights) play just like them. We've gone through our reports and they're a team that works hard and blocks shots, they do the little things you have to do to win."
The Sea Dogs didn't need teammate Beaulieu to tell them about the influence of Hunter hockey on the Knights brand.
"When you think about major junior hockey, London is one of those teams that comes into your mind," Saint John forward Zack Phillips said. "They've had success over a long period of time.
"I think being here last year and winning, we know what to expect. In a tournament like this, you're playing a Game 7 every time out and you have to battle.
"The Quebec league has had the reputation of being a softer league, but we don't think that way at all. We hit, block shots and fight if we have to. That's our game."
The Knights lost the OHL final opener. They fell behind 2-1 in the second round against Saginaw.
"This team is a resilient bunch," London general manager/coach Mark Hunter said. "All year, we didn't get too down for very long. If we lost a game, we had the ability to bounce back and that's a good quality to have."
The Sea Dogs went 16-1 during their playoff run through Quebec.
Their lone loss -- in the third round against Chicoutimi -- came at a much-needed time.
"We were too high, things were going too well so it was good we faced some adversity," Beaulieu said.
Added Phillips: "When we were winning, we weren't satisfied. We looked at it as taking the next step to get where we wanted to go -- and that was back here. Now, we're here and we're ready to go."
They get to show how ready they are against London.