SHAWINIGAN, QUE. - There's no reason for fear and every reason for respect.
That was the diagnosis following the examination of the London Knights and Saint John Sea Dogs here Saturday by Edmonton Oil Kings general manager Bob Green and coach Derek Laxdal.
They didn't exactly go back to Trois Rivieres, where the Oil Kings are holed up, rubbing their hands with glee after what they came here to see. But they headed back to their hotel with hope, which, considering what they're dealing with here, is all they could hope for.
When you have the three teams that finished first overall in the WHL, OHL and QMJHL and also won their league championships to qualify for the Memorial Cup tournament -- the first time that's happened since 1979 -- that's all you might have predicted Green and Laxdal would go back with.
Hope presented itself here Saturday night as the Knights scored a 5-3 win over the Sea Dogs following the Oil Kings' 4-3 win over the host Shawinigan Cataractes to open the tournament the night before.
To find out the Sea Dogs are not unbeatable was a bonus.
Saint John is the defending Memorial Cup champion with three consecutive 100-point, 50-win seasons and came here with 16 players who were on last year's squad and 11 players who have been drafted by NHL teams.
But Mark Hunter's Knights, who had a 49-win 99-point season in the OHL, had the five star chances and buried them.
“They're two pretty good clubs. Saint John has a lot of skill and London plays that 1-4 game like the Washington Captials and really nails down their zone,” Laxdal said.
“Both teams play very well defensively but London's MO is to lock it down.”
The Knights, says Laxdal, have a real advantage over both Saint John and Edmonton in the second half of periods on an ice surface which is been brutal.
“The ice doesn't look good good after about 10 minutes. It helps London,” added the coach of the 50-win 106-point WHL champions.
“Both teams' transition games are good,” Green said. “You need to make sure you get the pucks in deep. And you really have to respect the Saint John penalty kill.”
The Oil Kings play the Sea Dogs Monday and the Knights Tuesday.
The round robin concludes Wednesday with the two QMJHL teams, neither of whom has to play games on back-to-back nights like the WHL and OHL teams.
There have been teams that have come to the Memorial Cup with precious little scouting of their opposition, but that's certainly not the case with Edmonton.
The Oil Kings are owned by Rexall Sports, who also own the Edmonton Oilers. The NHL club has been helping the WHL team's case by providing intel on the other Memorial Cup teams.
“It's huge,” Green said.
“With Stu MacGregor and his staff of Oilers scouts, our scouting has been as good as it can get.
“We've had his guys Kent Hawley of Kingston, the Oilers OHL scout, and Bill Dandy who scouts the QMJHL for them, give us detailed backgrounds on what to expect, particularly dealing with player tendencies and weaknesses we might really be able to use to our advantage.
“We also have a great deal of video to work with and Derek has a lot of good connections from The Q and the OHL. So we're not lacking in that area.”
But nothing beats an in-person look at the OHL champions against the QMJHL champions to get ready for what's ahead.
“I think we got a really good visual tonight. We see some tendencies,” Laxdal said.
“I was really looking forward to this,” Green said.
“It's obvious why these two teams both got here. I saw some of the things in both these teams we saw with ourselves in our first game. Both these teams were nervous. Even Saint John having been here last year, it's a big deal. I think these teams will settle in now.
“But one thing for sure. You're going to have to be ready every night.”
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