London Knights: Back in time – Shutting down Sidney Crosby

London Knights Corey Perry(bottom right) and teammates celebrate as they pose for a team photo following their 4-0 win over the Rimouski Oceanic at the Memorial Cup in London, Ont. Sunday May 29, 2005. (CP PHOTO/Nathan Denette). Nathan Denette/CP Images

The London Knights are one of just two Canadian Hockey League teams that have won the Memorial Cup more than once since 1996. The Knights captured their first title in 2005. They won again in 2016. The Windsor Spitfires won back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010, and again when they hosted the tournament in 2017.

Strangely, the Knights won both of their titles on the exact same day: May 29. Their third appearance in a Memorial Cup final was on May 27 in Shawinigan, Que. This week, the ongoing series, London Knights: Back in Time, focuses on stories from before, during and after those games.

May 25 — The seven-second delay
May 26 — The Memorial Cup wait
May 27 — Aftermath and wisdom in Shawinigan

As Sidney Crosby was leading the Rimouski Oceanic to a 7-4 win over the Ottawa 67’s on May 28, 2005 with three goals and two assists, the mind of London Knights head coach Dale Hunter was already thinking ahead to the next day.

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It was now official.

The Knights and the Oceanic were going to meet for the second time in just over a week but this time the winner would capture the Memorial Cup.

The teams had opened the 2005 tournament with a 4-3 overtime thriller that saw London fall behind 3-1 and then work their way back to force overtime where defensive defenceman Marc Methot became the unlikely hero as he took a pass from Corey Perry on a 2-on-1 and buried the game winner behind Cedric Desjardins of the Oceanic.

That slim margin of victory ended up being the difference between the Knights advancing straight through to the championship final and having to play a semi-final as Rimouski did.

Crosby had lived up to every stitch of hype that existed heading into the Memorial Cup. In four games against top competition the player who was about to be selected first overall in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft had scored six times and added five assists.

READ MORE: London Knights: Back in time — May 14

“[Rimouski ran in five-man units,” remembers Knights captain Danny Syvret who had won World Junior gold with Crosby earlier that year in North Dakota.

“We changed our plan [in the first meeting] and went to a defensive-minded lineup against [the Crosby-led unit] and wanted to mitigate their offence and hoped that the rest of our team could run wild on their other units.”
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That strategy paid dividends in the first London victory in the 2005 tournament and it was ramped up to a whole other level for the final.

The line of Dylan Hunter, Brandon Prust and Trevor Kell was dispatched to control Crosby, Mac-Antoine Pouliot, Danny Roussin, Patrick Coulombe and Mario Scalzo Jr.

The Knights trio had spent some time head-to-head with Crosby in the first meeting between London and Rimouski along with Syvret and Dan Girardi on defence.

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Is Sidney Crosby the best hockey player of all time? – Oct 29, 2019

Hunter admits the opening win in the opening game of the Memorial Cup tournament removed some of the basic mystique around Crosby and his mates.

“As young as we were, we were fans ourselves. He was bigger than I thought he was going to be,” chuckles Hunter thinking back. “He had outstanding skill. You see it on TV but once you are out there against him it was pretty evident.”

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And all anyone had to do to be ready for the final was think back to the opening seconds of the round-robin game.

READ MORE: London Knights: Back in time — May 11 (Part 1)

“We had a big game plan drawn up. We knew what we were doing to do,” remembers Hunter. [Sidney Crosby] won the face-off back [and two passes later] he kicks it out wide and [Marc-Antoine] Pouliot rang a shot off the crossbar. We looked at each other and said, ‘We might have to back [this plan] up a few steps.’”
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That lesson was alive and well in the second meeting. There would be no 3-1 deficit for London to overcome in the championship game.

Hunter, Kell and Prust gave Crosby and his linemates very little room and very little time. And they were physical every chance they got.

That didn’t happen often with Crosby’s high skill so it was memorable when it did.

“I do remember crunching him behind the net as he was doing a cycle down low,” says Prust with a bit of a gleam in his eye.

That kind of thing seemed to wobble the Oceanic ship which was almost instantly on rough waters after Knights forward Danny Fritsche opened the scoring on a sharp-angled shot less than four minutes after the opening face-off.

READ MORE: London Knights: Back in time – The Memorial Cup final

Before the end of the first period Londoner Bryan Rodney had the Knights ahead 2-0 and Dave Bolland’s goal almost right off the bat created a 3-0 lead.

Still, Hunter says you could never allow yourself to believe that you had the game won.

“[Crosby] was so good that he just needed an inch so that you didn’t pat yourself on the back. It was just, tick one shift off… tick another shift off and we kept trying to frustrate him.”
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By the third period those signs of exasperation were beginning to show.

There was a bit of a dust-up just under five minutes into the third period. Dylan Hunter and Crosby got sticks up and shoved at each other to the extent that they received coincidental high-sticking minor penalties and Brandon Prust fought Sebastien Aspirot of the Oceanic.

READ MORE: London Knights: Back in time — Aftermath and wisdom in Shawinigan

All of that came roughly 90 seconds after Robbie Schremp had put London ahead 4-0.

From there it was a matter of locking things down and waiting for the clock to run out.

Rimouski recorded three shots on goal in the final period. Three. Every one of them could have gone in and the Knights would still have won. Adam Dennis saw to it that didn’t happen as he posted a 27-save shutout and Prust says there was an element that pushed London to finish things the right way.

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“We never really got ahead of ourselves. We stayed humble about it,” admits Prust. “And I think that was a really big thing for us. We never gloated. We stayed positive and just kept saying, ‘We’re doing it. We’re doing it.’”

READ MORE: Five London Knights recognized with OHL team honours

Humility was a fundamental trait of the 2004-05 Knights. No matter how good the standings said they were and no matter how good anyone else said they were, the team never allowed themselves to believe it. They went out every night wanting to earn their next win.

They did that 79 times from late September until late May.

And on May 29, 2005, they won the most important game of the season.

The last one.

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