Robert Thomas gives the Knights a win and his coach a milestone
When Dale Hunter began his coaching career in the Ontario Hockey League, three-on-three overtime did not exist. It wasn’t even a consideration.
But on Saturday night at Budweiser Gardens, it helped Hunter win his 700th regular season game as Knights’ captain.
Robert Thomas scored the game-winning goal in a 3-2 victory over the North Bay Battalion.
The end of the game ended up being a second celebration. The first came on London’s first goal as Cliff Pu directed a puck into the North Bay net and brought 9,431 teddy bears and other stuffed toys raining down onto the ice for the Salvation Army in the Knights’ annual Teddy Bear Toss.
Like they did on Friday night against the Oshawa Generals, London found themselves battling back throughout the game after falling behind 2-1 in the first period, but found the equalizer in the third and then picked up their sixth victory in their past eight games.
Dale Hunter says he just feels fortunate to do what he does.
“You have to be lucky to be involved in sport this long. All my life I have been involved in hockey, both playing and coaching and you enjoy coming to the rink when you have a great job like that.”
He now joins Brian Kilrea and the late Bert Templeton as the only OHL coaches to win 700 games in their career.
How the goals were scored
The 87th goal of anyone’s career isn’t usually all that memorable, but it might stand out as one to remember for North Bay forward Brett McKenzie. As he stood in the slot in the London zone, the puck slid right to him thanks to a turnover and he wound up and slapped it past Joseph Raaymakers to put North Bay ahead 1-0.
A Battalion penalty gave the Knights a chance to tie the game just before the midway mark of the first period and they did. Sam Miletic, who scored the Teddy Bear Toss goal in 2016, took a shot from the left side of the North Bay zone and while Miletic’s stick broke, the puck got to the front of the net where Cliff Pu deflected the puck into the Battalion net and brought the teddy bears out of the stands. It also tied the game 1-1.
The Knights killed off a first-period North Bay man advantage, but as Alex Formenton stepped out of the penalty box, Jesse Saban shot a puck at the London net and it was tipped in by Kyle Potts to put the Battalion back in front by a goal.
That score stayed the same until another Knights’ man advantage in the third period. London captain Robert Thomas sent a soft wrist shot at the net and it was deflected in by Ottawa Senators prospect Formenton at the 6:08 mark.
After back-and-forth chances in overtime, Thomas played hero as he flew through centre ice, dished to Miletic across the blue line and went hard to the net where Miletic found him and Thomas lifted the puck over Christian Propp to give London the victory.
A teddy bear from everyone and then some
A sell-out crowd of 9,036 accounted for the 9,431 stuffed toys for the Teddy Bear Toss. The total ranks fifth-highest in Knights’ history. London fans still hold the OHL record of 10,671 set in 2012 when Seth Griffith scored the Teddy Bear goal.
You don’t have to lead to win
The Edmonton Oilers have held the lead the least this season in the National Hockey League, averaging just 10 minutes and 39 seconds per game. The Knights found a way to beat North Bay without leading for a single second. The teams played very tight hockey through the second period. They kept each other from registering a shot for the first 7:32. They also combined to hit four goal posts in the middle frame.
The Knights will be in St. Catharines to play the Niagara Ice Dogs on Thursday, Dec. 8. London will be back home the next night against the Peterborough Petes on Friday, Dec. 9.
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