Sometimes things just don’t live up to the hype.
Movie sequels, high school reunions and staying up to see the sunrise are high up on the list.
The London Knights and the Ottawa 67s were in tough to match their Family Day billing as they went head-to-head in Ottawa.
The Knights entered the game as the top team in the Western Conference and the 67s came in atop the Eastern Conference, the overall Ontario Hockey League standings and the CHL Rankings as well.
But the teams did it. They lived up to the hype in a 4-2 London victory that kept over 7000 fans (many with small children) sitting mostly on the edges of their seats all day.
Big chances, bigger saves, hit goal posts and the 7th annual Wiener Dog Race highlighted the parts of the afternoon that didn’t result in red lights going off in behind hockey nets.
“We were just trying to hammer it home and get into those dirty areas,” admitted Knights assistant coach Dylan Hunter. “We’re not known as a team that does that so get a win like that in which it is more of a battle, it was good for our guys to see.”
The teams are still weeks away from the start of the post-season but both exhibited the things that it takes to be successful in playoff hockey. Everyone on both sides of the puck stepped in front of shots and took hits to make plays and maybe most importantly, both teams got great goaltending.
London rookie goalie Brett Brochu made 43 saves. He faced the first nine shots of the game and a barrage in the opening period when Ottawa outshot the Knights 22-7.
“They like to shoot. That’s their game,” said Brochu. “They throw pucks on net and get good traffic and usually it works out for them but today we made it work out for us.”
Brochu had to deal with a very early goal against as the 67s scored 56 seconds into the game. Jack Quinn, the OHL’s second-leading goal scorer, flung a puck at the Ottawa net New Jersey Devils prospect Mitchell Hoelscher flung a puck at the London net and it hit Mitchell Hoelscher and slid across the goal line.
London’s leading goalscorer Connor McMichael evened the game on a power play with his 40th goal of the year as he snapped a laser over the shoulder of Cedrick Andree who ended this game with 26 stops. The Orleans, Ont., native made 44 saves in the first game between the teams in early October. The Knights won that one 3-0 as Brochu recorded his first career shutout.
The score stayed 1-1 through the second period as both teams hit goal posts and London defenceman Ryan Merkley pulled a puck off the Knights goal line as it trickled in behind Brochu after he had made a save.
Alec Regula gave London their first lead at 5:54 of the third period. As the second Knights power play of the game came to an end, Regula corralled a puck in the slot and ripped a shot by Andree.
That lead lasted just over two minutes as Austen Keating backhanded a shot at the London net where it ricocheted in off the OHL’s leading scorer, Marco Rossi.
The goal was reviewed to determine whether it had been directed in by Rossi’s hand.
It was called a good goal.
The goal was then reviewed to determine whether or not there had been goaltender interference as the Knights elected to challenge it.
Again it was called a good goal and the game was tied 2-2.
In a game where getting to the tough areas to score was paramount, Jonathan Gruden was rewarded for a day filled with time spent in front of the Ottawa net.
The guy who hopes to make Ottawa his home one day as a member of the NHL’s Senators scored on a rebound with 1:39 remaining in regulation to put the Knights up 3-2.
Liam Foudy added an empty-netter with 15 seconds to go to seal it.
London’s penalty-killing unit held the top-ranked power play off the scoreboard as they killed off all four 67s attempts on the man advantage. That bumped the Knights’ penalty kill to number one in the league.
The Knights stayed one point ahead of Kitchener for first place in the Western Conference after the Rangers scored five unanswered goals in Hamilton to beat the Bulldogs 7-6 in overtime.
The loss was only Ottawa’s fourth on home ice all season.
Bilbo the Wiener Dog repeated as 2020 race champion in the 67s annual Wiener Dog race.
London will go to Windsor to play the Spitfires on February 20 at 7 p.m. The Knights go to Guelph on Friday and will then host the Storm in their next game at Budweiser Gardens on Wednesday, February 26.
Three away from 40 wins
Since Mark and Dale Hunter took over ownership of the London Knights in 2000 the team has reached 40 wins in a season 13 times. Numbers like that tend to need some perspective in order to prove their worth.
Here are the number of 40 win seasons by each OHL team and franchise since 2000:
13 – London Knights
8 – Kitchener Rangers, Barrie Colts
7 – Erie Otters
6 – Ottawa 67s (incl. this year), Soo Greyhounds, Flint/Plymouth
5 – Windsor Spitfires, Oshawa Generals, Guelph Storm, Niagara/Mississauga IceDogs
4 – Hamilton/Belleville
3 – Owen Sound Attack, Sarnia Sting, North Bay/Brampton, Saginaw/North Bay
2 – Mississauga/St. Mike’s, Peterborough Petes
1 – Kingston Frontenacs, Sudbury Wolves
A little inspiration
Players in the Ontario Hockey League know that they can be as little as a phone call away from playing in the National Hockey League. Those calls can be extremely rare this late in the season but one came for Knights forward Liam Foudy on February 9 and he made his National Hockey League debut with the Columbus Blue Jackets a night later. Foudy then played a second game for Columbus on February 13 and recorded his first NHL point by assisting on a Boone Jenner goal. London defenceman Alec Regula told Global News, “You dream of playing in the NHL one day and for one of your best buddies who you practice with every day get the call up like that and then to watch him on TV on the national stage is pretty special and it definitely motivates the other guys here.” Regula was a 3rd round selection of the Detroit Red Wings. Following a trade he is now property of the Chicago Blackhawks who signed the Michigan native to his first professional contract earlier this year.
London will continue four straight games away from home on Thursday, Feb. 20, in Windsor where they will play the Spitfires for the final time in the regular season. The Knights lead the season series 3-2. The Spitfires won two of the first three meetings. Since then London has pulled off a 6-3 victory in Windsor and a 7-4 win on home ice.
The Knights go to Guelph on Friday, Feb. 21, looking to avenge a 3-1 loss on Budweiser Gardens ice.
London will then come home to host the Storm on Wednesday, Feb. 26, at 7 p.m.
All games can be heard on 980 CFPL, at http://www.980cfpl.ca and on the Radioplayer Canada app.