London Knights and Sarnia Sting kick off pre-season to end long OHL drought

If you tried to count the days between London Knights games like you count sheep at night, you might be fast asleep before you even came close to the actual total.

They returned to the ice Friday night against Sarnia after a one year, five month and 26 day layoff (526 days) in a game that saw rookies account for every goal that was scored in a 3-2 shootout victory by the Sting at Budweiser Gardens.

First-year players will be easy to find this season in the Ontario Hockey League thanks to a double cohort of players both in both 2004 and 2005.

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Landon Sim falls on the 2004 side of that ledger and opened the scoring for the Knights at 10:31 of the opening period as he converted a slick feed from Sean McGurn who was able to put a pass through the skates of a defender and onto Sim’s stick. Sim’s father Jon played for Sarnia from 1995 to 1998 and posted back-to-back 50-goal seasons.

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Hockey bloodlines showed up again on London’s second goal as Knights 2021 first-round pick Denver Barkey dug a puck off the left side boards to Colton Smith and he fired it past Ben Gaudreau in the Sting net.

Smith is the son of former OHLer, NHLer and current Ottawa Senators head coach D.J. Smith and he gave the Knights a 2-0 lead 4:58 into the second period.

Sarnia chopped the lead in half thanks to a deft move by 2020 13th-round pick Josh Vogelsburg. He was able to get through a defender and slice a puck past Brett Brochu in the London net to make it 2-1 heading into the third.

An early power play for the Sting gave them an opportunity to tie the game and a tough bounce for London helped that to happen.

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Former Knight Vladislav Namestnikov’s kid brother Max plays for Sarnia and his pass into the slot hit a skate and ricocheted right to defence man Alexis Daviault to snapped a shot home at the 1:08 mark of period three to make it 2-2.

That score held up through 60 minutes.

Pre-season hockey in the OHL skips overtime and goes straight to the shootout and London and the Sting went blow for blow for six rounds before Daviault scored to end it.

Sarnia outshot the Knights 26-24.

1,000 fans stayed socially distanced around the lower bowl to take in the game.

The teams will meet again on Saturday night in Sarnia at 7 p.m.

London’s next pre-season home game will be Friday, September 24 at 7:30 pm against the Barrie Colts.

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Save of the night

Knights goalie Brett Brochu channeled a bit of Carey Price to stop a puck that deflected twice going from the right side to the left side of the London zone. It wound up on the stick of Maple Leafs draft pick Ty Voit and he fired only to have Brochu lunge with his stick and make the stop.

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Early injury bug

Luke Evangelista and Ben Roger would have most certainly been in the London lineup if not for injuries sustained at training camp. Roger was hit coming out of his own zone in his very first scrimmage and is hoping to be ready in time for his first training camp with the Ottawa Senators.

Ottawa selected Roger in the second round of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. Evangelista could be out longer with an upper body injury. He is listed as week-to-week and will miss training camp with the Nashville Predators. Evangelista was a second round pick of the Preds in 2020.

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From Russia with love

The Knights could have as many as three Russian-born players on their roster this season: Abakar Kazbekov, Ruslan Gazizov and Kirill Steklov.

Kazbekov played against the Sting. Gazizov could join the team later in September and Steklov is currently on a try-out with Vityaz Podolsk of the KHL. He appeared in their first game and played on the second defence pairing in a 6-3 victory over Nizhny Novgorod — a team that is coached by former Sarnia Sting forward David Nemirovsky.

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In hockey’s six degrees of separation, Nemirovsky used to play in Sarnia with Jon Sim and his son Jon opened the scoring in the game against Jon’s old team.

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