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Former teammate makes it tough, but London Knights get fourth straight win

London, Ont. - The London Knights found a way through a 54-save performance from Emmanuel Vella of the Flint Firebirds to win their fourth game in a row, 3-2 in overtime on Friday, March 8, 2019 at Budweiser Gardens. Jim Van Horne/980 CFPL

It took 57 shots and a breakaway winner in overtime that was scored by a defenceman and set up by a goalie for the London Knights to beat the Flint Firebirds 3-2 at Budweiser Gardens on Friday night.

Former London Knight goalie Emmanuel Vella was as difficult to beat as any goaltender London shooters have faced in 2018-19. The 20-year-old made 54 stops and some of them bordered on ridiculous.

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Jordan Kooy didn’t have to deal with as many pucks in the Knight net but still came up with some unbelievable saves of his own, including one that came point-blank in front of the London net.

At the end of the game, every Knight who had played with Vella skated down the ice to congratulate him and then Vella gave a wave to the crowd as they stood to cheer him off the ice. He was also named the game’s first star. Kooy took home second-star honours with a 26-save performance.

The win kept London four points ahead of the Saginaw Spirit for first place in the Western Conference. The Spirit have one game in hand on the Knights.

London also stayed within reach of the Ottawa 67’s for top spot overall. Ottawa blanked the Frontenacs 5-0 in Kingston. Ottawa is two points ahead of the Knights with a game in hand.

London has now won four in a row heading into their final regular season home game on Saturday against Saginaw.

READ MORE: Around The OHL: A pair of over-performing overagers

The goals

The Firebirds opened the scoring on a power play in the first period when second-year forward Ethan Keppen banged in a rebound.

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The Knights tied the game on a short-handed goal from Alec Regula that was set up by Liam Foudy just under five minutes into the second period.

Evan Bouchard put London ahead 2-1 with a big blast from the blue line at 9:31 of the second on a Knights’ man advantage.

The score stayed that way until the third period when Hunter Holmes scored his tenth goal of the season for Flint at 7:09 to send the game to overtime.

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After some dynamite saves from both goalies, Kooy caught a puck, dropped it to his stick and rifled it ahead to a streaking Adam Boqvist and he scored the game-winner for London at 2:24.

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READ MORE: London sports roundup, March 7: Knights GM Mark Hunter named manager with Hockey Canada program

Mark Hunter back with Hockey Canada

In August 2018, Mark Hunter returned to the London Knights to resume the role of general manager.

On Tuesday, Hunter returned to another previously held role. The former assistant GM of the Toronto Maple Leafs and the architect of multiple championship teams in Major Junior hockey was named one of the managers of Hockey Canada’s Program of Excellence for the 2019-20 season.

Hunter will run Hockey Canada’s under-20 program and World Junior team. He was part of a similar management group in 2013-14. Martin Mondou will oversee the under-17 program, as well as being the general manager of the Shawinigan Cataractes in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Former Guelph Storm GM Alan Millar will look after Canada’s under-18 program. Millar is with the Moose Jaw Warriors of the Western Hockey League.

The role of the members of the management team is always to provide input during training camps and to assist coaching staffs as well as Shawn Bullock, the director of the men’s national teams, and head scout Brad McEwen.

Exceptional status for Shane Wright

Most rookies who enter the Ontario Hockey League in 2018-19 will have been born in 2003. Some might be a year, even two years older. One will be 15 years old and born in 2004. On March 8, Shane Wright was granted exceptional status by the OHL, making him eligible for the Priority Selection a year early. Wright scored 66 goals and put up 150 points in 72 games with the Don Mills Flyers this year leading up to the OHL Cup, where they are the favourite to win.

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Sudbury gets to 40 wins for first time in over two decades

The last time the Sudbury Wolves posted a 40-win season, Zdenek Nedved led them in scoring as a 19-year-old. He is now 44 and has been retired from hockey for almost 10 years. It was the 1994-95 season. The 2018-19 Wolves hit 40 victories by beating Sault Ste. Marie on March 6 and find themselves still in the running for a Central Division crown despite a loss to Niagara on March 8. Sudbury sits four points back of the Ice Dogs with three games remaining for each team.

READ MORE: London sports roundup, March 4: Fanshawe Falcons off to nationals; Mustangs still have a chance

Up next

The London Knights head into as difficult a stretch as their schedule has had all year as they host the Saginaw Spirit on March 9 at Budweiser Gardens. The Knights will finish the regular season with games against the three teams closest to them in the Western Conference standings. The Spirit has been one of the best teams in the OHL over the second half of the season and now boast the offensive bursts of Owen Tippett and Ryan McLeod.

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After that, London will complete their regular season schedule with road games at Guelph, in Sault Ste. Marie and in Saginaw.

The pre-game show will get underway at 6:30 p.m. on 980 CFPL, at http://www.980cfpl.ca and on the Radioplayer Canada app for all four remaining games.

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