On a warm evening in early March 2020, the London Knights left Budweiser Gardens after beating the Oshawa Generals 3-1.
Knights players figured they had a week of practice ahead of them to prepare for their next regular season game.
That game was supposed to happen five nights later against the Flint Firebirds.
The wait ended up being a little longer than that. It has been 574 days since that early spring evening, but that count is finally over.
The London Knights are about to play their next regular season game.
Nine players on the Knights roster on March 8, 2020 are still with the team and they will now form the veteran core who will lead two exciting classes of rookies heading into the 2021-22 season.
The Brett Brochu rookie story will always be without its final couple of chapters. London had six games remaining on their schedule but Brochu had already set the Ontario Hockey League record for most wins by a 16 or 17-year old rookie goalie with 32.
The more the 19-year old goalie from Tilbury, Ont., played, the more successful he became. Brochu played 22 of his last 23 starts in 2019-20. He was named to the OHL’s All-Rookie team and represented the Knights on the OHL’s All-scholastic team. He is coming off a year with the American Hockey League’s Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins and a rookie camp appearance in Pittsburgh.
The Knights have 19-year old Matt Onuska to back up Brochu to begin with. Onuska appeared in two regular season games for the Knights in 2019-20 and spent the rest of his time with the St. Thomas Stars.
Onuska led the Waterloo Siskinds to a Sutherland Cup championship as a 16-year old in 2019.
London has three returning defencemen in Gerard Keane, Bryce Montgomery and Ben Roger. Combined, they have153 OHL games of experience to rely on.
Keane leads the way with 84 of those through two seasons. He attended training camp with the Columbus Blue Jackets and brings his grit and ability to move the puck, plus that taste of pro hockey, back to London. Roger was selected in the 2nd round of the 2021 NHL Entry Draft and will bring a steady presence to the blue line.
Montgomery was selected in the sixth round of the NHL Draft and will get a big opportunity to use his size and skating ability all over the ice. That trio is joined by Isaiah George, a great skater who is adept at making plays, two-way Ethan MacKinnon who is from London, Ont., hard-hitting Connor Federkow and all-around performer Jackson Edward who can lead the rush at one end and break it up at the other.
This group is a blend of youthful excitement and veteran savvy which will be led by NHL Draft picks Luke Evangelista and Tonio Stranges and newly-acquired overager Cody Morgan.
Evangelista was a lock for most-improved player in the OHL in 2019-20, Stranges is an electric offensive force and Morgan will play the role of big brother and hope to continue the offensive success that he showed in Flint, Mich., two seasons ago.
The Knights also have returning forwards Sean McGurn, Max McCue and Stuart Rolofs. All three were in the process of learning as rookies in 2019-20 and will now be relied on for big minutes. McCue is now a skilled fifth-round pick of the San Jose Sharks, while Rolofs brings size, speed and an accurate shot. He attended rookie camp with the Minnesota Wild. McGurn has outstanding vision on the ice and had six points in four pre-season games.
Nineteen-year old Jacob Chantler played in one game for London in 2019-20 before suffering a shoulder injury. He will be a key on the Knights penalty kill.
Eighteen-year old Liam Gilmartin is entering his first year in the OHL out of the U.S. National Team Development Program. He is a power forward who was selected by the San Jose Sharks in July.
The other eight forwards on the London roster are pure rookies, chosen in either the 2020 or 2021 OHL Priority Selection.
2021 first-round pick Denver Barkey led London in pre-season scoring with three goals and four assists in six games. Barkey tries to play the game in the style of Mitch Marner with quickness, vision and skill. Colton Smith showed off his shot throughout the exhibition schedule, finishing second on the Knights in shots on goal. He also tied for second in pre-season scoring with three goals and three assists. Brody Crane can play the game any way you want and will add skill and physicality every time he is on the ice.
Landon Sim iced the London in shots on goal in exhibition and put up three points in four games. He knows where the net is and can score when he gets there.
Abakar Kazbekov is another skilled forward with a deadly shot. He was the first overall pick in the Under-18 OHL Priority Selection.
Ben Bujold was the Knights’ first-round pick in 2020 and has an excellent hokey IQ. He ended the exhibition schedule nursing an injury after taking a knee to his thigh from Londoner Liam Van Loon of the Hamilton Bulldogs.
The Knights begin the season with three games in four days starting Friday night at home to Owen Sound. London will be in Owen Sound on Saturday at 7:30 and then head for Windsor on Thanksgiving Monday for a game against the Spitfires.
All games can be heard on 980 CFPL, at www.980cfpl.ca and on the Radioplayer Canada app.