May 16, 2013
London Knights open Memorial Cup against host team swept out of first-round of playoffs
By RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency
SASKATOON - Ryan Rupert wants no part of what the Saskatoon Blades just went through the past two months.
The Memorial Cup hosts crashed and burned in an embarrassing four-game, first-round sweep to the Medicine Hat Tigers, forcing them through a marathon training camp to prepare for Friday's tournament opener against Rupert's London Knights at the Credit Union Centre.
“The worst part is knowing you're out of the playoffs and not winning a (league) championship,” Rupert, the gritty 18-year-old forward, said. “You're kind of going through the back door, so they say. The worst would be practising for 50 days, getting bagged (skated) all the time. I couldn't take that at all. I'm not the practice-type player.
“The playoffs are a long grind and I like that.”
The Knights will hold the 2014 Cup, in part, because the Canadian Hockey League doesn't want another Blades situation, or even a repeat of Shawinigan, who lost in the second round last year before coming back to win it all, in overtime of the final at home, against London.
The Blades have been resting, but they will also have some rust.
The Knights needed all but 0.1 seconds of seven games in the OHL final to knock out the Barrie Colts, finishing it on Bo Horvat's buzzer-beater Monday night.
The Blades, intent on watching the game for scouting purposes, counldn't help but be caught up in the excitement.
“It was incredible,” Saskatoon coach Lorne Molleken said. “They (the Knights) just found a way to win and that's a sign of a good hockey team.”
The Blades got a good crash course from the Knights in what it's going to take to win this week.
“That must have been pretty heart-breaking for Barrie,” Saskatoon's leading scorer Josh Nicholls said. “It's an incredible way to end a long, good series. We were excited watching those (OHL) games and to see it end like that was pretty special for those guys.”
There are over 10,000 tickets sold for the Cup opener. London isn't worried about it.
“It shouldn't be a big deal,” Rupert said. “Budweiser Gardens is the biggest arena in the OHL (holding 9,046) so it's nothing new. We should be used to it. This is a really big game. Getting the jump on Saskatoon, it's one we pretty much need right off the bat.
“I think we come here a little more relaxed (than last year). We know what to expect in this tournament.”
London knows the schedule isn't set up in their favour. If they don't beat the Blades, they will face Portland and Halifax on back-to-back nights fighting for their season.
For a team so fragile late in games, it's important to get some breathing room. The Knights gave up 19 third-period goals to Barrie and Saskatoon's best 20 minutes should be their last on Friday.
“Just keep the foot on the gas pedal,” London forward Max Domi said. “Sometimes, if you watch those games, we're pretty much in control the first two periods and let off a little bit. Those teams smell it and jump all over it. We've got to control that and help each other out. That's just coming out prepared and it's not anything we can't do.”
The Blades, who say they're in the best shape of their life after on-ice boot camp, know what's at stake. If they're blown out by London, the Cup atmosphere and momentum will suffer.
“We have a lot to prove,” Nicholls said. “It's a big stepping stone for our team to really think we have a chance at this thing. If we do lose (to London), we did a lot of mental coaching over the year and we've really been able to push ourselves in different situations so we feel we'll be alright.
“London's a deep, talented team but we'll try to dominate the game with our size and speed and physical shape.”
Whoever loses will have a lot to worry about.