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London Knights clinch playoff spot for 20th straight year

Jim Van Horne/980 CFPL

It has become as much a part of February as Valentine’s Day and watching groundhogs look for shadows.

Invariably, at some point during the second month of the year the London Knights officially put their clutches on an Ontario Hockey League playoff spot.

It happened on Thursday night in Windsor, as London doubled the Spitfires 4-2 in the final meeting between the teams in the regular season.

The victory stretched the Knights’ playoff streak to 20 seasons, which ranks as the longest current streak in the OHL. They have reached the post-season in every year that Mark and Dale Hunter have owned the team.

Thursday’s win over the Spitfires was anything but a given. Windsor is big, skilled and can make life miserable for their opponents, but London played patient hockey and took advantage of their opportunities.

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“It was definitely a tough game,” admitted Knights co-captain Alec Regula who scored one of the four London goals.

“They play hard every night and it is a pretty big rivalry between us, so it was a good game and a good win.”

The Knights once again got some big stops from Brett Brochu who made 35 saves in all. His biggest may have happened as London protected a 3-2 lead into the final minute of the game.

Windsor forward Tyler Angle took a pass in the slot and fired a shot at the Knight net. Brochu reached out his arm and knocked the puck away and seconds later, Connor McMichael took a pass from Liam Foudy and scored his 41st goal into the empty Spitfire net.

“[Brochu] is making a habit out of making those big saves,” pointed out London assistant coach Dylan Hunter.

“He lets us feel calm on the bench because he’s really confident pushing pucks into the corner on tough rebounds.”

READ MORE: ‘Around the OHL’ meets the ‘Unnamed Hockey Podcast’

Brochu, who is from Tilbury, Ont., used to watch Windsor games with his dad when he was younger.

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He ended up as first star of the show on Thursday in a second straight 4-2 win by the Knights. Brochu was named second star in Ottawa on Monday as London knocked off the 67’s.

Jonathan Gruden scored the game winner against Ottawa and scored the Knights first goal against the Spitfires to tie the game 1-1 in the second period after Cole Purboo had opened the scoring. Gruden credited the fact that the veterans on the team “don’t let the players get too high or too low and that leadership trickles right down to the young players.”

Click to play video: 'Peterborough Petes thinking ahead to playoff positioning' Peterborough Petes thinking ahead to playoff positioning
Peterborough Petes thinking ahead to playoff positioning – Feb 5, 2020

Regula put the Knights ahead 2-1 before the end of the second, but Windsor tied the game 6:39 into the third period as Wyatt Johnston managed to bang a bounce off the end boards behind Brochu.

Liam Foudy extended his point streak to 10 games with his 24th of the season just shy of the midway mark of the third, setting the stage for more stops by Brochu and McMichael’s goal with 12 seconds to go.

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London is now on a four-game winning streak and leads the Kitchener Rangers by three points atop the Western Conference standings. The Knights still have a game in hand.

London’s power play was held quiet on their only opportunity. Windsor went 0-for-4 on the man advantage.

The Knights will visit Guelph on Friday.

Bouchard recalled

Former London Knights captain Evan Bouchard is back in the National Hockey League. After an injury to Edmonton Oilers defenceman Oscar Klefbom, the Oilers summoned Bouchard from the American Hockey League’s Bakersfield Condors.

Bouchard has 33 points in 50 games for Bakersfield this year. He did not dress for Edmonton’s overtime loss to Boston on Wednesday. The Oilers host Minnesota on Friday. Bouchard played seven games with Edmonton at the start of the 2018-19 season and scored his first goal. He was then assigned to the London Knights for his final season in the OHL where he won the Max Kaminsky trophy as the OHL’s most outstanding defenceman.

READ MORE: London Knights assistant coach breaks down keys to team’s power play success

Mermis recalled

The New Jersey Devils have recalled former Knights defenceman Dakota Mermis. The Alton, Ill., native made his National Hockey League debut with Arizona in 2017-18 and has played in 10career NHL games. Mermis has been playing with the Binghamton Devils this year where he has 19 points in 53 games and is a plus-6. Mermis was a part of London’s 2013 OHL championship team and then won a Memorial Cup with the Oshawa Generals in 2015.

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DeMelo moved

Londoner Dylan DeMelo headed to Winnipeg this week in a trade between the Jets and the Ottawa Senators. DeMelo played in the OHL for the Mississauga St. Mike’s Majors and the Mississauga Steelheads and started his National Hockey League career in the San Jose Sharks organization. He was moved to Ottawa in the Erik Karlsson trade on Sept. 13, 2018.

He is due to be an unrestricted free agent on July 1 so he was in a position where a move was a possibility. The Senators received a third-round pick in return for DeMelo and now have seven selections in the first three rounds of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. DeMelo played his first game for the Jets against the Senators on Thursday.

READ MORE: London Knights win battle of conference leaders on Family Day

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Up next

London heads into back-to-back games against the Guelph Storm as they head to the Royal city for a Friday night matchup. Guelph will be in London on Feb. 26.

If you want a guideline for the way the games could go, look at the first three results and think “low-scoring.”

Of the three meetings so far, the clubs have split 3-1 scores and the Knights won the other game 4-2.

The games could feature Brett Brochu against Nico Dawes in net. Brochu sits number two in goals against average and number three in save percentage among OHL goaltenders. Daws is at the top of the list in both categories.

The Storm have picked up points in each of their past six games. Guelph is six points back of Windsor for fifth place in the Western Conference standings with 14 games to go. The Knights enter the game in first place in the Western Conference. London also has 14 games remaining on their 2019-20 schedule.

The pregame show starts at 7 p.m. from Guelph on 980 CFPL, at http://www.980cfpl.ca and on the Radioplayer Canada app.

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