Forget the sweltering heat of a hot summer.
It is beginning to feel a whole lot like hockey season in the OHL again.
It has been a while. Hundreds of days have passed since the last Ontario Hockey League games were played on March 11, 2020 but a schedule for a 68-game season has been released and it is set to kick off on Oct. 7.
On that night Windsor will host the Sarnia Sting, the Peterborough Petes will be in North Bay and Barrie will visit Niagara.
After 555 days between games, the London Knights are slated to host the Owen Sound Attack on Oct. 8 at 7:30 p.m. at Budweiser Gardens. London will turn around and head right to Owen Sound the next night to complete a home-and-home with the Attack.
“There are a lot of back-to-back (games), especially early,” says Knights associate general manager Rob Simpson. “It’s going to be a little bit different with not much travel for any teams.”
London will only face teams within the Western Conference as the OHL does its best to keep teams in geographic areas close to home. The Knights have 10 total games against Sarnia, Kitchener, Guelph and Owen Sound. London will play Windsor eight times, Saginaw and Flint six times and Erie and the Soo Greyhounds four times.
The first half of the schedule will run until Dec. 18. London will get an 11-day holiday break, returning on Dec. 29. The second half of the Knights’ regular season will go until April 1, 2022, when the Knights will finish with a Friday night home game against the Flint Firebirds.
The three American-based teams will spend the first month of the season playing games against each other before they are expected to cross the border in November.
The Ontario Hockey League plans to have the playoffs run from April 7 to May 30.
The KIA Memorial Cup does not have a host city to speak of yet but it has been scheduled for June 2 to June 12 of next year.
Every team in the Ontario Hockey League will have two rookie classes making their debuts.
Players born in 2005 who were just drafted in the 2021 OHL Priority Selection will be entering the league and they will be joining 2004-born players who would already have a year of experience. Given the circumstances of the pandemic, that experience never happened because the OHL was unable to return to play.
The Knights added a player from each of those draft classes on the same day the schedule was unveiled as they announced the signings of 17-year-old goaltender Owen Flores and 16-year-old defenceman Oliver Bonk.
Flores was London’s sixth-round pick in 2020 and was able to play this past season for the Chicago Young Americans.
The Knights selected Bonk 26th overall on June 4. He is the son of former National Hockey Leaguer Radek Bonk. Radek was a two-time all-star who played for the Ottawa Senators, Montreal Canadiens and Nashville Predators during a 14-year NHL career.
“You can just tell (Oliver) comes from a hockey family,” says Simpson. “He already has good size. He kind of reminds me of Alec Regula and how he was early in his career.”
Flores is a six-foot-two goaltender from Antioch, Ill. Antioch is located on the very north side of Chicago. The Knights will hope that he can have a career similar to another native of a Chicago suburb in Gerald Coleman, who won the Memorial Cup with London in 2005. Coleman was from Romeoville, Ill.
“Owen is a player we have been watching a lot on video this season,” Simpson says. “When we drafted him he was about six-foot and he shows great athleticism…. He had a really good year this year with a .922 save percentage and he posted a number of shutouts down the stretch.”
Both players will be at Knights training camp when it opens in late August or early September.