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Downtown delight in the air as London Knights make regular season return

The London Knights will kick off their 2021-22 regular season with a home opener against the Owen Sound Attack at Budweiser Gardens on Friday night. Luke Durda / OHL Images

London, Ont., will regain a sense of normalcy on Friday night as the city’s OHL team makes its regular season return.

The London Knights will face the Owen Sound Attack in what marks their first regular season game since March 8, 2020, a wait that’s planted plenty of anticipation the Forest City.

Read more: London’s Budweiser Gardens welcomes bump in capacity limits at certain Ontario venues

Rob Matic, along with about 4,500 other Knights fans, will have a seat in Budweiser Gardens when the puck drops at 7:30 p.m.

“There’s just an aura of excitement around the fandom. We can’t wait,” said the longtime Knights fan.

Matic says he’s especially curious about what the team will look like after 19 months without regular season play.

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“When you’re dealing with junior-age hockey players … part of the fun is seeing who’s going to crack that lineup next year,” Matic said.

“Because we’ve lost that year, it’s doubly fun now, and you just spend more time digging into who are these guys.”

Longtime London Knights fan Rob Matic poses alongside Sammy Spirit during a game hosted by the Saginaw Spirit.
Longtime London Knights fan Rob Matic poses alongside Sammy Spirit during a game hosted by the Saginaw Spirit. Supplied by Rob Matic

Downtown businesses have also been long awaiting the return of the Knights and the crowd they bring to Budweiser Gardens.

“Friday night used to be the night, no matter what, that … every building around and every restaurant, everybody would be full,” said Mark McGonigle, the manager of FitzRay’s Restaurant and Lounge.

“London, Ont., is a hockey town, so people are looking forward to that kind of thing. You can see it, we saw Dale Hunter and his friends were here on Friday night, and they looked like they were having fun after the (pre-season) game.”

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Read more: Second straight shootout win for the London Knights ends the pre-season

While Friday will bring a much-needed business boost, Covent Garden Market CEO and general manager Bob Usher says things are already picking up.

“Even with the pre-season games and it’s done us certainly well, and the street’s very happy that they’re back,” Usher said.

“It may not be as busy as it has been, but you know what? I can tell you that our tenants and the restaurateurs that I know in the area, they’re just going, ‘Phew, isn’t this nice?'”

Read more: London Majors crowned IBL champions for the first time in 46 years

Friday’s season opener has also been a long time coming for Knights forward Luke Evangelista, who was sidelined during the pre-season after suffering an injury in training camp.

“It was definitely frustrating … I waited so long to play OHL hockey, to play for London again,” Evangelista told Global News.

“Fortunately, I had a really good recovery, I was working with our trainer Matt Bogart every day, getting that injury better, and I’m not missing any regular season games.”

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“I think I can speak for the whole team when I say this, but I think everyone’s really excited to be back.”

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