30th goal by Gruden, 30th win by Brochu propels London Knights past Kitchener Rangers

London, Ont. - Matvey Guskov of the London Knights gets dragged down going to the net in a game played at Budweiser Gardens during the 2019-20 season. Jim Van Horne/980 CFPL

ESPN is well known for their “30 in 30” series.

On Tuesday night in Kitchener the London Knights used a “30 and 30” to beat the Kitchener Rangers 6-2.

Forward Jonathan Gruden scored his 30th goal of the year and Brett Brochu earned his 30th victory as London polished off a 4-2 season series victory and extended their lead atop the Western Conference standings in the Ontario Hockey League to three points over Kitchener. The Knights have nine games remaining on their regular season schedule. The Rangers have eight left.

“Our team has been playing really solid and tonight was a good team win,” the unflappable Brochu said after the game. “It feels good but we still have nine games left and we’re looking forward to those ones too.”

The Knights started the game by killing off three Kitchener power plays and scoring three first period goals.

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Matvey Guskov opened the scoring by banging in a Connor McMichael rebound as he went hard to the net in the Rangers zone on a 2-on-1.

Exactly two-and-a-half minutes later, London went ahead 2-0 as Luke Evangelista was sent in on a short-handed breakaway thanks to a feed from Ryan Merkley. Evangelista deked to his backhand and scored his 23rd goal of the season.

The Merkley scored a goal of his own as he carried through all kinds of traffic in the Kitchener end until he got in tight. Merkley then turned and ripped a shot past Kitchener goalie Jacob Ingham for a 3-0 Knights lead.

READ MORE: Brett Brochu, Alec Regula earn monthly Ontario Hockey League honours

London came out strong in the second period and limited the Rangers to just two shots in the first twelve minutes. Liam Hawel scored on Kitchener’s third shot of the period at 12:17 to make it 3-1. The goal brought some noise back to what had become a quiet crowd at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium but the Knights did not allow it to last long.

Connor McMichael and Jonathan Gruden scored goals 10 seconds apart with just under six minutes to go in the second period. Gruden hit 30 goals on the season on a slick feed from Liam Foudy.

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“It’s pretty cool. I’ve played with a lot of great players this year, so it really is a credit to them. I love being here,” said Gruden as he soaked in the accomplishment.

The assist on Gruden’s goal pushed Foudy’s point streak to 15 games and had London leading 5-1 through 40 minutes.

The teams exchanged goals in the final period. Mike Petizian connected on a Ranger power play and then Kitchener native Jason Willms closed out the scoring as he wired a wrist shot over the glove of Lucas Pfeil who had come in to relieve Ingham for the final 20 minutes.

It was the first regular season goal that Willms had scored in his home town rink. He did get one in a pre-season game while playing for the Barrie Colts but admitted that this one was special.

READ MORE: Around the OHL: By the numbers

“There are always nerves coming in here because I spent so much time here when I was younger watching the Rangers and it was extra sweet to get that one at the end.”

Brochu joins some select company as a 17-year old goalie with 30 victories. Only Andrew Loverock, Justin Peters, John Vanbiesbrouck, Kay Whitmore, Brian Finley and former Knight Pat Riggin have hit that mark at that young an age. Brochu keeps adding to the wins record by a London rookie. The old record was held by Ryan MacDonald who had 38 in 2004-05. Riggin had 37 wins as a 17-year old in 1976-77.

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The Knights outshot Kitchener 41-21. London was 0-for-4 on the power play and killed off 4 of 5 opportunities that the Rangers had on the man advantage.

McMichael had a goal and two assists for the Knights. Gruden, Evangelista and Merkley had a goal and an assist for London.

The Knights now come home to face the Sarnia Sting for the final time this season on Friday, March 6 at 7:30 at Budweiser Gardens.

Click to play video 'Nick Robertson reflects on 50-goal milestone with Peterborough Petes' Nick Robertson reflects on 50-goal milestone with Peterborough Petes
Nick Robertson reflects on 50-goal milestone with Peterborough Petes – Mar 3, 2020

Awards day

On March 2 the Ontario Hockey League handed out weekly and monthly honours and the London Knights captured three of the five awards. Liam Foudy was named Player of the Week after scoring twice and adding five assists in three London victories. Foudy stretched his point streak to 14 games with three points against the Erie Otters on March 1.

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For the second month in a row Brett Brochu of the Knights was named Goaltender of the Month in the OHL. Brochu went 7-1 and led the league with a 2.36 goals against average and a .926 save percentage in February.

Alec Regula was named Defenceman of the Month after scoring 11 goals and adding seven assists for 18 points and a plus-10 plus/minus rating.

Brady Austin’s big year

At six-feet-four-inches and 193 pounds, former London Knight Brady Austin is a big guy. This year playing for Kladno in the Czech Extraliga, the Bobcaygeon, Ont., native is putting up some big numbers as well.

Austin has 15 goals and 39 points in 50 games which ranks him ninth in Extraliga scoring. The Knights acquired Austin from the Belleville Bulls in 2013-14 and he played for them for the rest of that season. Austin was a draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres and he played two seasons with their American Hockey League affiliate in Rochester before being called up for five games with the Sabres in 2016-17.

From there, Austin spent a year with the Stockton Heat of the AHL in the Calgary Flames organization before heading to Denmark last season and then to the Czech Republic this year. He is trying to help Kaldno avoid relegation. Kaldno will play Litvinov on March 6 and the team that loses that game will end up being relegated to a lower league.

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READ MORE: London Knights’ Liam Foudy adds another accomplishment to 2019-2020

First to 50

The Ontario Hockey League has its first 50-goal scorer of 2019-20. Toronto Maple Leafs prospect and Peterborough Petes forward Nick Robertson scored his 50th as part of a hat trick on March 1 against the Barrie Colts in a 6-1 victory by the Petes. Jack Quinn of the Ottawa 67’s needs two goal to hit 50 and Arthur Kaliyev of the Hamilton Bulldogs (43), Connor McMichael of the Knights (42) and Pavel Gogolev of Guelph (42) all have an outside shot.

The last London Knight to score 50 goals was Kevin Hancock last year, although he scored 31 of his 50 with Owen Sound during the first part of the season. Before that it was John Tavares in 2008-09 although his season was split between London and Oshawa. The last London Knight to score at least 50 goals in a full season with the Knights was Patrick Kane in 2006-07 when he scored 62.

READ MORE: London Knights at 40 yet again

Up next

For the 22nd year in a row, the London Knights will not play the Sarnia Sting in the playoffs. The Knights have played every other team in the Western Conference at least twice in the post-season over that same time frame. London has gone up against Windsor, Guelph, Kitchener and Owen Sound at least five times.

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The last time the Knights and the Sting managed to meet was the only time for the geographic neighbours at either end of the 402. It was 1998-99 and London knocked out the Sting in six games. In what would become a strange twist a year later, Mark Hunter was Sarnia’s head coach in that series. Mark and Dale Hunter purchased the Knights in 2000.

The teams will play for a final time on March 6 at Budweiser Gardens at 7:30.

The Sting are set to miss the playoffs for the first time since 2014.

Coverage will begin at 6:30 on 980 CFPL, at and on the Radioplayer Canada app.