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.
When the London Knights of 2011-12 were down two games to one to the Saginaw Spirit in the second round of the playoffs, they weren’t supposed to come back and win.
Their young roster wasn’t supposed to make it to the Ontario Hockey League championship series and they certainly weren’t supposed to beat the Niagara Ice Dogs once they got there.
But they did. Three for three.
That landed them in Shawinigan, Que., for the 2012 Memorial Cup tournament.
But certainly, that had to be it. There was no way a team filled with all kinds of youth could skate with, let alone beat, the beasts they would face on the ice.
The Western Hockey League champion Edmonton Oil Kings had a towering defence and Laurent Brossoit in net. Host Shawinigan had wild offensive talent and even wilder fans. And behind door number three sat the defending Memorial Cup champions, the Saint John Sea Dogs, who were a year older and a year better. They now had Charlie Coyle.
The Knights were thought to be just too inexperienced to compete.
But they did.
And it all began on May 19, 2012.
London had played spectator for a tournament-opening 4-3 win by the Oil Kings over the Cataractes that showed off the skill of both sides and the atmosphere that the Centre Bionest could bring. It was like playing on the floor of a dance club with more lights. The Shawinigan mascot, Tommy Hawk, would literally jump from section to section during the game as beats blared through a fantastic sound system.
On Day 2 of the tournament, the Knights had to face the Sea Dogs, whose roster featured not just Coyle but other future National Hockey Leaguers like Nathan Beaulieu, Tomas Jurco and the electric Jonathan Huberdeau, who has 437 points in 537 games to this point in his NHL career.
London had 11 future NHLers on their team but five of them were 17 years old or younger.
And the title-holders sent a message early. On the first shift of the game, Huberdeau elbowed Matt Rupert in the side of the head and earned himself a two-minute penalty but it was Saint John that opened the scoring during the Knights power play thanks to a short-handed goal by Charles-Olivier Roussel.
The goal didn’t spark any kind of landslide for the Sea Dogs. The Knights hung in and began to feel they could skate with Saint John. Then Jared Knight bounced a puck off the pad of Sea Dogs goalie Mathieu Corbeil and Max Domi lifted it in.
Goals by Vladislav Namestnikov and Seth Griffith had London ahead 3-1 just past the midway mark of the game and then it was just a matter of playing keep away, which the Knights accomplished.
Saint John tightened the score to a single goal twice and twice the Knights responded. They won 5-3.
With a young team, there can be all kinds of coming-of-age moments during the season but that one was key in that it erased any thoughts that London couldn’t compete.
READ MORE: London Knights: Back in time — May 18
They had held the Sea Dogs in check. They had win number one. They had taken down the returning champion.
The Knights had also dealt with an issue that would exist all tournament long: soft ice.
The ice at the Centre Bionest had been removed and then put back in near the start of the tournament. That might have worked out well had it not been for the heatwave that had swept in along the shores of the St. Lawrence River.
The weather and the challenges with the ice would remain hot topics throughout the event.