London Knights find ways to win with World Junior players away

Buffalo, N.Y. Bob Martin, Robert Thomas, Victor Mete and Alex Formenton pose for a picture at New Era Stadium during the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championship.
Buffalo, N.Y. Bob Martin, Robert Thomas, Victor Mete and Alex Formenton pose for a picture at New Era Stadium during the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championship. 980 CFPL

Sherry Bassin is one of the best storytellers in hockey.

Thanks to his time as a junior hockey coach, general manager, owner, and even broadcaster, Bassin has a few incredible tales about the very early years of Canada’s participation at the World Junior Hockey Championship.

In the beginning, there was no national junior team. Often the Memorial Cup champions would add a few extra bodies from around their league and they would play for Canada at the World Junior tournament. That’s how Brad Marsh, Rob Ramage and Pat Riggin of the London Knights came to represent Canada alongside Wayne Gretzky in 1978 in Montreal.

Bassin knew Canada’s best chance would come if the owners of junior teams could be convinced to allow their best players to form a true powerhouse. Of course, that meant letting each of those players leave their respective teams while the major junior schedules in Ontario, Quebec and the Western Hockey League rolled right along.

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Those owners must have looked like young kids at the side of the pool, learning to dive head-first into the water: there was more than a little hesitation.

The way Sherry Bassin regales it, the owners were in a meeting, trying to decide whether to send their best players, and the consensus was a resounding no. Then Bassin asked them a question: If Hockey Canada came to them and asked if they would let their son play for their country, would they let him go?

Instantly, the perspective in the room changed and Canada’s national junior team was born.

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In 41 years, no country has won more gold medals (16) than Canada.

And for most of those years, junior teams have been surrendering their best players for the better part of a month.

Any hesitation is long gone.

The London Knights tend to contribute somewhere between two and four players annually and for the past three years, a Knights player has returned with a gold medal.

Tyler Parsons back-stopped Team USA last year, Olli Juolevi set a record for assists by a 17-year-old defenceman in 2016, and Max Domi made the Captain Morgan celebration famous as Canada’s juniors captured their last championship in Toronto in 2015.

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Playing without names like Parsons, Juolevi, Domi and others might lead you to believe that the Knights spend the days during the World Juniors struggling to tread water.

The numbers say differently.

Over the past five seasons, London has amassed a record of 24-8-0-4 with players away representing their respective countries.

This season has actually been one of the busiest and one of the best for the Knights.

READ MORE: New team, fast pace, calm attitude: 3 keys for Canadian juniors going for gold

Since the departure of captain Robert Thomas and forward Alex Formenton to Team Canada and of winger Max Jones to Team USA, London has played eight games and has a 6-1-0-1 record with one more game to go.

That game happens in Sudbury Friday night at almost exactly the same time that Canada and Sweden play for gold in Buffalo.

Both matchups are part of a junior hockey tradition that isn’t just tolerated. It is welcomed and enjoyed to the fullest.