Knights' Houser shakes off critics

London Knights goaltender Michael Houser concedes a goal to the Saint John Seadogs during their...

London Knights goaltender Michael Houser concedes a goal to the Saint John Seadogs during their Memorial Cup match in Shawinigan, Que., May 19, 2012. (MATHIEU BELANGER/Reuters)

RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:28 PM ET

SHAWINIGAN, QUE. - Michael Houser feels like he's being painted with the wrong brush.

The London Knights goalie, who is up for the Canadian Hockey League's top netminder and player awards this week, took some heat from Sportsnet analyst John Garrett during Sunday night's 6-2 Memorial Cup loss to the host Shawinigan Cataractes.

Garrett, a former NHL goalie and member of the 1970 Memorial Cup-champion Montreal Junior Canadiens, was critical of Houser's body language after his own defenceman, Olli Maatta, tipped Shawinigan's second goal past him in the second period.

Garrett felt Houser stared at Maatta and told Sportsnet host Daren Millard, who is also a goalie, the reaction by the OHL's most outstanding player and top goalie wouldn't happen in his "beer league."

"I'm usually aware of my body language on the ice and I would never do that," Houser said Monday. "I don't know how it looked on camera, but if you kept watching, I actually patted Olli on the back of the pants because I knew he was mad at himself for tipping it in and didn't want him to feel bad about it.

"It was still only a one-goal game at that point, there was lots of time left and we were trying to come back."

London general manager and head coach Mark Hunter stuck up for his netminder. He said he's never seen a situation where Houser wasn't accountable for a goal scored against him.

"Houser is the least of our concerns," Hunter said. "He's one of the leaders and he's part of the veteran group the younger guys look up to on this team. I didn't see anything like that out there. John expressed what he saw, but I don't know what he's able to see from way up there at the top of the rink."

Veteran London forward Greg McKegg agreed.

"Mike is a great guy and no one on this team would ever take it in that way," the Toronto Maple Leafs prospect said. "He was probably mad the puck went in but he's one of the best teammates you can have."

One of London's strengths is blocking shots, getting bodies and sticks in the lanes, but this was the second straight game the Knights deflected a puck past their all-star goalie. Still, he doesn't want his teammates changing their approach now.

"Not at all, I don't want the guys getting out of the way," Houser said. "We had a meeting today and talked about shot blocking. We want to do a better job at it. That's part of our game. It was just one of those bad breaks, but you go out there and create your own breaks and that's what we're trying to do."

Houser, who has a sarcastic sense of humour, joked forward Vladislav Namestnikov actually had a hat trick in the win over Saint John -- two on the Sea Dogs and one on his own net, a result of Jonathan Huberdeau's long slapper glancing off his pants.

But Houser hasn't yet produced his best game at the Memorial Cup. He has allowed eight goals -- three shorthanded -- in two outings.

He has shown flashes, like the first 10 minutes of the Shawinigan storm and the spartan two-minute, two-men-short penalty kill with Austin Watson, Scott Harrington and captain Jarred Tinordi out there for the duration.

He feels like he's still getting adjusted to the Centre Bionest. There have been a couple of strange hops off the boards in a rink largely devoid of them.

"I'm getting more comfortable, it's not an arena I'm familiar with like the (John Labatt Centre)," Houser said, "so I'll probably stay more in the net (on dump-ins). There was one in the second period that looked like it hit a little gate and popped out. I took a look (where the Zamboni comes out) and it must've bounced off that."

The crowd is loud and energetic, but there are some visual distractions.

"One thing I noticed is there are some darker seats in there and once in a while, it's hard to pick out the puck," he said, "but I've played in rinks like that before."

Mississauga's Hershey Centre, where last year's Memorial Cup was played, is one.

Every player can't help but notice the heat in the building.

"That's one thing, I have to remember to stay hydrated," he said, "and we have to make sure the fans are going in the dressing room between periods because it gets really hot in there."

There isn't a cold tub here like back home, which Houser used for post-game recovery.

He has to settle for a nutritional shake and a long stretch.

"We know how big Tuesday's game against Edmonton is," Houser said. "If we win, we could go straight into the final. That's something every team here strives for."

To get there, the Knights need Houser to lead the way.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

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