The London Knights and the Erie Otters are preparing to meet in a seventh and deciding game tonight at the Erie Insurance Arena in Pennsylvania.
The Erie Otters have played in just three Game 7s in their history.
The Knights played in three Game 7s in 1989 alone.
In total, this will be London’s sixteenth Game 7 since the OHL changed to a best-of-seven format in 1987 and their first on the road since 2003. As a franchise, the Knights have won nine of 15.
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The Knights and Otters do have Game 7 history.
That series happened way back in 1998.
It marked London’s return to the playoffs after seasons of 3-60-3 and 13-51-2 and despite a solid start, they eventually found themselves hanging by a single strand of hockey hair.
They had finished first in their division under head coach Gary Agnew.
They had young stars like Rico Fata, Chris Kelly, Tom Kostopoulos and Krys Barch. They had added veterans like Jay Legault and Mark Cadotte and as if someone had flipped a switch, the losing stopped.
London and Erie met in the first round and the Knights blanked the Otters 2-0 to open the series. Kelly broke a scoreless tie at 12:01 of the third period and Kostopoulos added an empty netter with six seconds left and London ignited.
Then Kostopoulos salvaged a blown third period lead with an overtime winner in Erie in Game 2.
Game 3 went long — all the way to the 8:36 mark of double overtime before the Knights pulled it out again with a goal from Kelly.
London was up three games to none, heading back to Erie with a chance to win a playoff series for the first time in five years.
That’s when the engine that had been the Knights completely conked out.
London managed just 17 shots in Game 4 and lost 7-0.
Not to worry, there was always Game 5 back at home.
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That game quickly became the Steve Valiquette show. The Erie goaltender made 48 saves and the Otters won 3-1.
Game 6 was back in Erie. The Knights jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but the Otters tied the game, 2-2.
With less than 10 minutes remaining, Max Spiridonov put London ahead 3-2. All they had to do was hang on.
With 3:03 to go, Jason Baird scored to tie the game again and then future Stanley Cup champion, Michael Rupp won it in overtime and the Knights and Otters headed back to London for Game 7.
Nervous tension was everywhere inside the London Ice House.
It was a series that should have ended three times, but Erie kept finding ways to prolong it and now it was anyone’s game.
And that’s the way things played out. It really was anyone’s game.
Colin Pepperall opened the scoring for the Otters just over two minutes into the game and then Evgeny Korolev tied things 1-1 with a goal for the Knights.
Pepperall put Erie ahead again in the second period, but Kostopoulos put a puck into the Otters net in the final minute of the middle frame to knot things up again, heading to a final period of regulation.
This was not a carefully played game. The clubs traded chances all night. Both ended up with nearly 40 shots on goal and as good as some of those chances had been and as good as Steve Valiquette and Gene Chiarello were in net, it was a bank shot from behind the net that won the game.
Ask anyone who might have been there, almost 20 years ago and they will describe Rico Fata’s goal as if it came very late in the third period. It actually went in at 2:22.
London had to hang on through an agonizing 17-plus minutes.
They did and snuck out with a 4-3 series victory.
The Knights would ride that momentum through a second series win over Kingston, before falling to the veteran-laden and Brian Kilrea-coached, Ottawa 67s in the OHL semi-finals.
Still, that seven games series with Erie remains the most memorable part of that post-season run.