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.
Any Canadian Hockey League team that has had success at the Memorial Cup tournament can provide a key piece of advice.
Get off to a good start.
The club that has gone on to win the championship has won their opening game in 16 of the past 21 tournaments.
It isn’t a guarantee of anything. It just makes a hard road slightly easier.
The London Knights have had excellent success off the start.
In five Memorial Cup appearances, the Knights have four opening game victories. London’s only loss in that mix came when they ran into a 51-save performance by Antoine Bibeau of the Val d’Or Foreurs and lost 1-0 on May 16, 2014.
May 17 saw London begin the 2013 Memorial Cup tournament in Saskatoon, Sask.
The Knights had just polished off an exhausting comeback against the Barrie Colts that came complete with the unbelievable buzzer-beating Bo Horvat championship-winning goal with 0.1 seconds remaining in regulation time in Game 7 of the OHL finals.
READ MORE: London Knights: Back in time — May 13
After that win on Monday, May 13, 2013, London had exactly a day to rest and soak in the fact that they had erased a three games to one deficit against Barrie and were not representing the Ontario Hockey League in the quest for major junior hockey’s holy grail for the second consecutive season.
Wednesday was a travel day for the Knights. Thursday was their first and only full practice at the SaskTel Centre and Friday they were one half of the opening act against the host Blades.
For Saskatoon, things had been a little different. They had made it through a 44-win season knowing they would be tournament hosts but had been upset and swept in the first round of the Western Hockey League playoffs by the Medicine Hat Tigers and had not played a meaningful game of hockey in 51 days.
It was a lack of rest up against a whole lot of rust that hit the ice in front of a crowd of 10,203 fans who weren’t necessarily root, root, rooting for the home team. Saskatoon’s early exit left some Blades supporters with a sour taste and low expectations going into a tournament that their city had last hosted in 1989. That year ended in a classic yet heartbreaking 4-3 overtime loss by the Blades in the championship game against the Swift Current Broncos.
Saskatoon did their best to rekindle the fire for the fans who weren’t feeling it in 2013 against the Knights as they opened the scoring 7:59 into the first period on a goal by Josh Nicholls that was set up by future NHLer Michael Ferland.
London had refused to allow themselves to go down easy all season and it wasn’t long before they rebounded.
Brett Welychka batted a rebound past Buffalo Sabres prospect Andrey Makarov who had held Saskatoon in early as the Knights created chances.
Seth Griffith put London ahead 2-1 before the end of the first 20 minutes as he converted a Bo Horvat pass on a 2-on-1.
The Blades tied the game in the second period on another Nicholls goal but the Knights edged in front to stay in the third when big defenceman Nikita Zadorov snuck in from the left point on a power play and knocked a Scott Harrington rebound over Makarov.
READ MORE: London Knights: Back in time — May 15 and 16
London had what they needed in an opening night win but they knew their biggest tests in that tournament were still to come in Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin and the Halifax Mooseheads and also from Seth Jones and the Portland Winterhawks.
MacKinnon, Drouin and Jones represented the top three prospects coming out of major junior for that year’s National Hockey League Entry Draft.
The trio wound up being in the top four selections. After leading the Mooseheads to the 2013 Memorial Cup title MacKinnon went first overall to Colorado. Drouin was selected third overall by the Tampa Bay Lightning and Jones went fourth to Nashville. Aleksander Barkov interrupted a 1-2-3 when the Florida Panthers called his name with the second overall pick.