This is part of an ongoing series in which we look back on amazing moments in London Knights history. Each day, we’ll bring you a new memory leading up to the anniversaries of the team’s Memorial Cup championships in 2005 and 2016.
Over the course of a season, the London Knights spend just under 200 hours on their team bus.
In a long playoff run, that number grows even larger.
And the Knights are a lucky team. They are centrally-located in the Ontario Hockey League.
Ask the Prince George Cougars of the Western Hockey League or the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the QMJHL about travel. Two hundred hours on the bus sounds like a run to the corner store to get milk.
Fans will sometimes interact with a team as they pass their team bus on a highway or spot it at an intersection. You tend to get a honk and a wave from your fans. Fans of other teams wave in different ways.
Going back to May 15, 2013 and May 16, 2012, London players had a chance to have a very different interaction with fans as they traveled on their team bus.
READ MORE: London Knights: Back in time — May 14
Both years saw the Knights crowned champions of the Ontario Hockey League, and in both seasons the Memorial Cup was hosted by the other leagues that make up the Canadian Hockey League and that meant trips to Shawinigan, PQ in 2012 and Saskatoon, Sask., in 2013 and a massive sendoff in London both years.
It was the first opportunity for the Knights to play in Memorial Cup tournaments held outside the Ontario Hockey League and fans did not waste the opportunity to wish London well.
As their team bus traveled east down Dundas St. toward the London International Airport just before noon, fans left work or came from home and lined both sides of the street to wave and shout or hold up signs as the team went by. The sheer number of people blew the minds of the players who stared out the window at the sea of supporters.
Some fans even followed the team the entire way to the airport and were there to chant “Go Knights Go!” on the tarmac as the Knights walked up the stairs to the plane set to fly them east in 2012 and west in 2013.
READ MORE: London Knights: Back in time — May 13
Flights are very rare in major junior hockey. They can happen during the finals in the WHL depending on geography. They may come up intermittently depending on schedules at other times. OHL teams will go years without flying to a game. Many never fly at all.
That makes a trip to the Memorial Cup that much more special for players. Team are brought to the host city on the same charters used by the National Hockey League and players find out quite quickly why “NHL” also stands for “Never Hungry League. “
One of the keys to winning the Memorial Cup is to be able to see the bright lights that the tournament brings but not let them get in the way of your vision.
The Edmonton Oil Kings talked about that as a key difference in how they fared when they joined the Knights at the Memorial Cup in Shawinigan. The Oil Kings felt they were wowed a little too much by the experience and it hurt them on the ice. They lost 6-1 in the tiebreaker game and were the first team to head home.
When the core of that Edmonton team got back to the tournament in 2014 in London they approached it differently and they ended up winning the Memorial Cup.
The Knights are known to have some of the best fan support in all of major junior hockey and those days in May gave incredible proof. Most fans end up following the team from afar once they leave for the Memorial Cup. A few make the trip but they don’t come by the hundreds or the thousands.
Those drives down Dundas St. left a lasting impression on every London player on the team bus.
The Memorial Cup is incredibly hard to win. It is a four-team tournament featuring three league champions and a host that has built its roster to be able to run with the best of the best.
As the Knights found in both 2012 and 2013 you don’t always come home as champions but every player on both of those teams also found out the kind of support they had from their home fans no matter what the outcome turned out to be.