Richard Whittaker scored three times, added an assist and threw in a fight for good measure as the London Knights doubled up Owen Sound 6-3 on Friday night at Budweiser Gardens.
The victory was London’s fifth in just eight days and moved them four points clear of Owen Sound for fourth place in the Western Conference with four games remaining on their schedule. (The Attack have five left.)
The game was also another example of what has been making the Knights so difficult to deal with on their latest winning streak. Different players keep stepping up.
“That says a lot about us,” said captain Evan Bouchard. “Our opponents have to be worried about all four lines, not just our top two.”
Teams also need to be worried about production from London’s blue line as well. Bouchard added his 83rd point of the season on Friday. He sits in ninth in league scoring and could become the first Ontario Hockey League defenceman since Ryan Ellis to finish in the top-10 in scoring. Bouchard was just turning 12-years-old.
Whittaker was a prime example. He sat out 19 minutes after a fight with Kurtis Henry of the Otters, but was given an opportunity to finish his hat trick and made good.
“He showed a lot of character and a lot of will. To go out and beat a guy who was bigger than he was and get a nice goal at the end, our whole bench jumped. We were so happy for him.”
Sergey Popov also had a big game offensively for London with a goal and an assist. Joseph Raaymakers made 26 saves in the London net.
The Knights hope to keep the smiles and the streak going as they head to Flint on Saturday night.
How the goals were scored
Sergey Popov started off his night by zooming down into the Erie Otter zone where he zipped around to the right side and sent a pass to the left of the Erie net to Richard Whittaker and the Holland Landin, Ont. native fired high to put London ahead 1-0 at the 10:34 mark.
The Knights began the second period on a 4-on-3 penalty kill and killed off both penalties that had been assessed at the end of the first period. Cole Tymkin and Alex Formenton left the penalty box simultaneously and were about a stride and a half from rejoining the play when Kyle Maksimovich took a shot from the slot and scored to tie the game 1-1.
Just 15 seconds later, London rebounded to retake the lead on Whittaker’s second goal of the game. He carried across the Erie blue line and took a shot that hit a stick and deflected past Erie goalie Anand Oberoi and in to put the Knights back in front 2-1.
The Otters tied the game again on a goal by former Sarnia Sting forward Troy Lajeunesse at 5:10 of the second, but the Knights responded quickly again.
Sergey Popov rolled away from a check in the Erie end, cut to the net and snapped a shot high over Oberoi to make it 3-2.
Then, with the Knights killing a penalty late in the period, Alex Formenton and Billy Moskal went streaking down the ice on a short-handed two-on-one and Formenton scored his 25th of the year to extend London’s lead to 4-2 through 40 minutes.
Gera Poddubnyi cut the Knights’ lead to a goal 6:11 into the third period and the game stayed that way until Nathan Dunkley was taken down on a breakaway with 2:33 remaining.
Dunkley slowed down across the blue line, got to within the hash marks and ripped a shot inside the right post to restore London’s two-goal advantage.
Richard Whittaker finished the scoring with an empty-netter for his third goal of the game with just under nine seconds remaining.
Gordie Howe would have been proud
Richard Whittaker completed the Gordie Howe hat trick just 34 minutes and 34 seconds into the game. By that point, he had two goals, an assist and had been in a fight with Kurtis Henry of the Otters that contributed to 19 minutes in penalty time that the Knights rookie had to serve. Whittaker left the penalty box at 14:34 of the third period and yet still managed to complete his first-ever hat trick as he pulled the puck away from an Otter defender on the right side of the Erie zone and slid a backhand into an empty net.
Fourth seed scenario
London now leads Owen Sound by four points for the fourth seed in the Western Conference and home-ice advantage in the first round. If the Attack beat Saginaw on Saturday night or if the Windsor Spitfires lose to the Otters in Erie, the Knights and Owen Sound would be guaranteed to meet in the first round of the playoffs. They would be left to battle for home ice advantage over the rest of their schedules. London plays in Flint, at home to Sarnia, in Saginaw and in Sault Ste. Marie. The Attack will play home games against the Spirit, the Greyhounds, followed by back-to-back road games in Flint and Windsor. Owen Sound completes their season on Saturday, March 17 at home to the Sarnia Sting.
READ MORE: Knights make it four wins in a week
The Knights go to Flint on Saturday to face the Firebirds. The teams have met three times this season. London put up 8-2 and 9-0 victories at Budweiser Gardens, but lost 3-2 in a shootout in Flint right after the holiday break. The pre-game show gets underway at 6:30 on 980 CFPL, at www.980cfpl.ca and on the Radioplayer Canada app.