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Mike Stubbs: Friday would have been opening night for the Knights in 2020

Centre ice at Budweiser Gardens.
Centre ice at Budweiser Gardens. Mike Stubbs/980 CFPL

The corner of King and Talbot in London, Ont., is fairly quiet right now.

If you were standing there you could look west toward Ridout Street and see cars making their way south. Some of them would take the turn onto King Street and go east past the Covent Garden Market heading deeper into downtown.

There would be the odd person within sight walking along sidewalks.

Every once in awhile a cyclist would glide by.

Nothing would feel out of place, necessarily, but it definitely wouldn’t feel how it was supposed to as late afternoon turned to evening on Sept. 25, 2020.

That corner in London is supposed to be electric on a day like Friday.

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People everywhere. Vehicles packed tight, working their way from stoplight to stoplight as with tangles of pedestrians navigating crosswalks, all heading toward a common goal.

The entry gates of Budweiser Gardens.

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If this was any other year, everywhere in that area would be decked out with green and gold. Someone would be blowing a horn and a familiar sense of anticipation would envelop not just King and Talbot but most of the centre of the city as the London Knights and their fans got themselves ready for London’s home opener in 2020.

Players would be inside what still stands as a jewel of junior hockey with its 9,000-plus seats and ceiling full of banners marking memories from big-time moments of past Knights seasons.

Those players would be walking into the dressing room painstakingly prepared by London equipment manager Chris Maton. Sweaters would be hanging in stalls. Socks would be folded perfectly in front; pads and skates arranged exactly the same for every player who had earned the right to be in the lineup on opening night.

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Knights athletic trainer Doug Stacey would be in his office providing pre-game treatments to anyone who may have tweaked something coming through training camp.

Way in the back of the dressing room area and behind a closed door, London’s coaches and managers would be going over last-minute items and breaking out final pieces of video to show to players still making themselves familiar with the Knights system.

Everyone inside the dressing room would be moving with a purpose, just like everyone outside the building. Routines would be underway, players going from suits to sweats, taping sticks checking skates and from every angle, fans running into friends they hadn’t seen since the last time everyone was at a game. And the most common expression on any of the faces would be a smile because even with the hurry, anxiety and anticipation that arrives for a night like this, there is always the certainly of celebration.

London’s home opener has taught hockey fans that the night can be absolutely wild.

From the four-goal comeback victory that christened the building in 2002 to the 4-3 squeaker over Kitchener that kicked off a 31-game unbeaten streak in 2004 to the 10-7 game a year later that saw the Knights and the Saginaw Spirit combine for 27 power plays as players and officials did their best to figure out the new rules of the game following the National Hockey League lockout.

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Overall, fans tend to go home happy. The Knights are 11-7 in home openers at Budweiser Gardens.

There have been 8-0 blowout victories, 3-2 shootout nail-biters and rookie debuts that blew off the roof.

Sergei Kostitsyn had a goal and five assists in 2005. Max Domi had three goals and an assist in 2011 and Hunter Skinner blasted home his first two OHL goals a year ago in his first game in a London uniform.

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It would be great to wonder whether Ben Bujold, Colton Smith, Jackson Edward, Brody Crane, Landon Sim or Isaiah George were going to make a big mark in a debut Friday evening.

It would be great to be going to a game Friday evening.

And that would be happening if not for everything else that has taken place this calendar year. If not for a fight that supersedes any puck battle along the boards.

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The plan is in place for the Knights’ home opener to still happen. Depending on scheduling it could even occur on Dec. 4. Whether fans find themselves flocking to downtown to take part still depends on more factors than you could fit onto a mathematician’s chalkboard but everyone is permitted to hold out hope.

That hope has taken us through the first months of the current pandemic. Things like hope and memories of better times can assist in trying to make it through whatever months may lie ahead.