Two goals from Ryan Merkley helped the London Knights celebrate the return of six World Junior gold medallists with a 5-2 victory over the Barrie Colts on Friday night.
The Knights honoured general manager Mark Hunter, head coach Dale Hunter, equipment manager Chris Maton, head of security Bob Martin and players Liam Foudy and Connor McMichael before the game for their roles in Team Canada’s gold medal victory in the Czech Republic.
London also welcomed two new teammates as former Colt Jason Willms and former Guelph Storm and Owen Sound Attack defenceman Markus Phillips made their Knights debuts.
Phillips recorded an assist for his first point in a London uniform and Willms tied for the game lead with five shots on goal against his former club.
The Knights outshot Barrie 52-16 and won for the fifth time in a row as they kicked off three games in two-and-a-half days.
Merkley opened the scoring for London in the first period as he wristed a shot past Arturs Silovs of the Colts on the power play.
Barrie got that back on a deflection by Luke Bignell at 8:46 of the second period and the teams sat tied 1-1.
That score lasted just over a minute as Matvey Guskov of the Knights carried the puck across the Barrie blue line and snapped a puck by Silovs at the 10:29 mark.
The Colts evened the game a second time on their first power play opportunity as Brett Brochu stopped a chance at one side of the London net only to have the play circle around to the other side where Aidan Brown jammed it in to leave the teams locked at a pair of goals apiece through 40 minutes.
The Knights came out charging in the third period. They outshot Barrie 16-4 and got goals 1:21 apart from Alec Regula on a power play and from Merkley at even strength to take a 4-2 lead.
Liam Foudy capped off the scoring into an empty net with 3:19 to go in the game.
Guskov ended the game with a goal and an assist for London.
The victory moved the Knights to within two points of Windsor for first place in the Western Conference and to within a point of Kitchener for top spot in the Midwest division. London, Guelph and the Rangers are separated by two points in spots one, two and three in the Midwest.
Markus Phillips comes full circle
The newest defenceman on the London Knights admits that he is a hockey nut.
He loves following everything about the game and was the first to point out the uniqueness of his arrival in London. The Owen Sound Attack received a compensatory draft pick after trading Victor Mete to the Knights in 2014 and used that ninth-overall selection to draft Phillips seven months later.
Phillips recorded his first point in London on the Knights’ second goal of the game against Barrie.
Before taking on the Colts, the London Knights honoured all six members of Team Canada who won gold on Jan. 5, 2020 at the World Junior Hockey Championship in the Czech Republic. Liam Foudy, Connor McMichael, Mark Hunter, Dale Hunter, Chris Maton and Bob Martin brought a long standing ovation from the Budweiser Gardens crowd.
Canada defeated Russia 4-3 in the gold medal game by scoring three times in the third period. It was Canada’s first gold at a World Junior tournament played in Europe since 2008.
Londoners Ryan Suzuki and Peter Fleming traded to Saginaw
As part of a number of moves by the Barrie Colts leading up to the Ontario Hockey League trade deadline, Ryan Suzuki and Peter Fleming were dealt to the Saginaw Spirit in trade that saw five players and seven draft picks change teams.
Suzuki and Fleming are both former London Jr. Knights, the latter the son of outgoing city planning director John Fleming. They moved to Saginaw with Ryan Beck and a 5th round pick for Ethan Cardwell, Connor Punnett and a collection of six draft picks. Cardwell and Punnett were in the lineup against the Knights on Friday.
London heads west and then north to round out the weekend. They will take on Londoner Ryan Suzuki and the Spirit in Saginaw on Saturday night, then make their final regular season trip to Sault Ste. Marie for a 2 p.m. game against the Greyhounds on Sunday afternoon.
The Knights have a win and a loss against the Spirit. Each team has won on home ice.
London and Sault Ste. Marie have only played once this season. It was a game that saw Liam Foudy score in overtime to give the Knights their first victory over the Greyhounds since 2016.
Coverage will begin at 6:30 p.m. from Saginaw on Saturday and at 1:30 p.m. Sunday from Sault Ste. Marie on 980 CFPL, at www.980cfpl.ca and on the Radioplayer Canada app.