By Paul Krotz/OHL
The London Knights are currently riding a pair of four-game win streaks to Shawinigan and the 2012 MasterCard Memorial Cup.
After losing the opening game of the Rogers OHL Championship Series in double overtime, the Knights rallied and won four-straight over the Niagara IceDogs to win their second Robertson Cup title.
The last time the Knights hoisted the OHL’s top prize was in 2005 before winning four straight games at the MasterCard Memorial Cup on home ice capped off with a 4-0 win over Sidney Crosby and the Rimouski Oceanic in the Championship Final.
Also holding onto a four-game win streak at the MasterCard Memorial Cup is Playoff MVP Austin Watson who was a member of the 2009 Champion Windsor Spitfires in his rookie season. That year in Rimouski, the Spits lost their first two games before becoming the first team in tournament history to win four straight games after falling behind 0-2.
“Winning never gets old,” Watson told the London Free Press after earning the Wayne Gretzky 99 Award with 17 points in 19 playoff games. “My French is still terrible but hopefully, we can write the same finish.”
Watson has received praise around hockey circles for his tireless work ethic, especially on the penalty-kill.
“He has pro written all over him, he’s another huge reason we’ve won hockey games,” Knights Assistant Coach Misha Donskov told The Pipeline Show. “He does the little things right, is sound defensively, is a fearless shot blocker, and great for the young kids in the room.”
The Knights defense will be tested early in Shawinigan when they open the tournament against the defending champion Saint John Sea Dogs (Saturday May 19 at 7PM on Sportsnet). They feature a lineup with four first round NHL draft picks including offensively gifted forwards like Zack Phillips, Charlie Coyle, and Jonathan Huberdeau.
Montreal Canadiens first rounder Nathan Beaulieu patrols the blueline for the Sea Dogs. The son of Sarnia Sting Head Coach, Jacques Beaulieu, grew up in Strathroy and looks forward to playing the Knights.
“It means a lot because it’s my hometown team,” Beaulieu told the London Free Press. “I grew up with the Knights and it’s going to be special to play them because there are still a lot of people in that organization who are like family to me.”
While the Knights have been busy scouting the opposition through video, the hockey operations staff received a boost this week when it was announced that team President Dale Hunter was returning to London after a head coaching stint with the Washington Capitals.
“Dale coming back to the organization only makes the London Knights stronger,” said Donskov. “He is an outstanding hockey mind, and an outstanding leader, it’s great to have him back.”
While he may not stand behind the bench, Hunter will make the trip to Shawinigan.
“I’m a fan,” he said Monday to the London Free Press. “I won’t be behind the bench. Mark has done a great job and they don’t need anything to change. I am excited about seeing them because I left after 10, 15 games and they are so much better now. That’s what’s really exciting for me.”
Following the Knights’ opening game Saturday against Saint John, they will face the host Shawinigan Cataractes on Sunday May 20, and finish round-robin play against the WHL champion Edmonton Oil Kings on Tuesday May 22. All games are at 7PM Eastern and live on Sportsnet.