A great hockey player is a great hockey player — in a heatwave, in a snowstorm, in a pandemic.
Great is great.
On Wednesday afternoon, the London Knights announced that they will be honouring five players and a former coach and general manager as the 2021 class of the Don Brankley Hall of Fame.
The Hall draws one builder, a player from each decade between 1960 and 2000, and then a player who represents 2000 to today.
This year, Bill Long will be elected as a builder and Darryl Edestrand (1960s), Pat Riggin (1970s), Dave Simpson (1980s), Tom Kostopoulos (1990s) and Danny Syvret (2000s) will enter as players.
Edestrand played three seasons with the London Nationals between 1962-63 and 1965-66. In the first two of those years, the Strathroy native also played short stints with the Toronto Marlboros. Edestrand ended his junior career with the Nationals and jumped to the American Hockey League’s Rochester Americans where he won a Calder Cup championship that same year.
Two years later, Edestrand was selected by the St. Louis Blues in the NHL expansion draft and went on to play 10 seasons in the National Hockey League with the Blues, the Flyers, the Penguins, Boston and the Los Angeles Kings. Edestrand held a claim to fame of finding himself in a fight with Bobby Orr one year and then being acquired by Orr’s Bruins the next season. He and his wife retired to London when his playing career ended. Edestrand passed away in 2017 at the age of 71.
Any debate about the best goalie ever to play for the London Knights begins with Pat Riggin. Riggin’s win total as a 17-year-old puck stopper is still unmatched, not just by Knights goalies, but by any major junior goalie in Ontario. The Londoner won 37 games in his second season in leading the Knights to the OHL Championship series in 1976-77. After their Game 8 victory over the Fincups in the semi-finals, the Knights ran out of gas against the Ottawa 67’s in the final but Riggin was selected to go with Ottawa to the Memorial Cup that year where he wound up in the net in four of Ottawa’s Memorial Cup games.
Riggin’s National Hockey League career lasted nine seasons and 350 games where he posted an impressive 153-120-52 record with the Flames, Capitals, Bruins and Penguins.
Simpson put up one of the most impressive individual seasons in Ontario Hockey League history in 1981-82. The London native scored 67 goals and added 88 assists for 155 points on his way to being named the Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year and Scholastic Player of the Year. Simpson amassed 319 points overall in his OHL career and ranks 10th in all-time franchise scoring for the Knights.
A draft pick of the New York Islanders, Simpson ran into a logjam with the four-time Stanley Cup champions who had no room for rookies despite Simpson’s impressive offensive statistics in the minors. Simpson elected to end his playing career after the 1985-86 season.
Former London Knights General Manager Paul McIntosh once watched Tom Kostopoulos playing in a game in his OHL draft year. Kostopoulos was being pinned along the boards when the puck was rimmed around those boards about chin high. Kostopoulos stuck his face in the way, took the puck off his visor, deflected it down onto the ice and kicked it in front for a scoring chance. At that moment, McIntosh knew he had to have him as a player.
Kostopoulos joined the Knights in 1996-97 after being selected by London in the second round. He helped the Knights climb during his career to within a win of the Memorial Cup in 1999. Kostopoulos played 11 seasons in the National Hockey League, beginning and ending with the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. In between, Kostopoulos spent time in New Jersey, Calgary, Carolina, Montreal and L.A. His last five years of professional hockey were spent as captain of the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins of the American Hockey League.
When you captain a franchise to its first Memorial Cup championship, you earn a very special place in that team’s history. Danny Syvret joined the Knights as a 17-year-old in 2002-03 and helped them rise to the top of the Major Junior hockey world. Along with his role on the Team of the Century season in 2004-05, the Waterdown native was also a part of Team Canada’s gold medal victory in North Dakota at the World Junior Hockey championship. Syvret also won the Spengler Cup with Team Canada in 2007-08.
Syvret scored his first NHL goal with the Philadelphia Flyers in an outdoor game in 2009-10 and played in the Oilers, Ducks and New York Rangers organizations during a 12-year professional career. He took home accolades like the CHL Defenceman of the Year in 2005 and was named to first All-Star teams in both the OHL and the American Hockey League. Syvret currently lives in London.
The Ontario Hockey League’s Distinguished Service award is named after Bill Long. Talk to anyone who played for him, coached against him or knew him outside of a hockey rink and they will speak of the class that Long exuded as a person. He treated people the right way. And he had success in his career as an assistant coach with the Niagara Falls Flyers and then a coach with the Ottawa 67’s and the London Knights.
Long coached the Knights from 1972 to 1980. He moved to the general manager position for the 1980-81 season. Long was behind the bench when the Knights won 51 games in 1976-77 and advanced to the OHL final. He would lead the team to the semi-finals in the two years after that. Long passed away in 2006 at the age of 88.