Time is on Knights side

Cur­rent roster’s work at both ends means Lon­don may not need to deal for up­grade

The London Free Press - - SPORTS - RYAN PYETTE [email protected]­media.com

It’s hard to nit­pick a team that was per­fect in the month of Novem­ber.

That’s why, even though the Knights have been keep­ing an eye on the vet­eran tal­ent be­com­ing avail­able across the OHL, they aren’t in any hurry to do any­thing game-chang­ing at the mo­ment.

Many be­lieve they need a topline scorer to get to the Me­mo­rial Cup in May, but it’s hard to make that ar­gu­ment when the cur­rent roster con­sis­tently puts up seven goals a game re­cently, in­clud­ing in an 8-1 win over Kingston Fri­day.

“We have good chem­istry here,” Lon­don GM Mark Hunter said. “I like how our team plays. They push and they want to win. I have time for them. We’ll see (what hap­pens). Ev­ery­body comes and put their work boots on ev­ery night and you have to come and be ready to play. They have been and hope­fully, we can con­tinue that and do what we have to win more games here.”

The Knights have the best goal­sagainst to­tal in the league. But the best teams in junior hockey are usu­ally the ones who can score five goals when they need it. You don’t feel com­fort­able if you win a bunch of nail­biters, in­clud­ing over­time and shootout con­tests.

“I like our goal dif­fer­en­tial,” Hunter said. “We’ve got enough goals (in the lineup). In the Na­tional Hockey League, a lot of guys look at goal dif­fer­en­tial and ours (in the plus-50 range) means we have games where we’re re­ally push­ing.”

Mak­ing their mark

Nathan Dunk­ley be­lieves the Knights de­sire to win was built in from their first-round sweep at the hands of Owen Sound last spring.

“We were bit­ter from last year and we knew we had good core guys on the team,” said the 18-yearold OHL first-rounder, who was ac­quired from Kingston in the Cliff Pu deal. “Ev­ery year, you come in with the at­ti­tude you want to be a win­ning hockey club but there is some­thing spe­cial here and we know we’re go­ing to make a re­ally good push.

“A lot of guys can play a bunch of dif­fer­ent roles on this team and win­ning only adds to that con­fi­dence in what we’re do­ing.”

The Fron­te­nacs don’t look an aw­ful lot like the club that Dunk­ley was with at the start of last sea­son. But there are enough fa­mil­iar faces that he still en­joys the op­por­tu­nity.

“It’s al­ways cool to play against your bud­dies,” he said. “It’s a good chal­lenge and it’s feels ex­tra good when you win. You play to win and that’s the most ex­cit­ing part.”

Home ad­van­tage

Alex For­men­ton was in atom hockey when Sid­ney Crosby scored the golden goal at the 2010 Olympic Win­ter Games in Van­cou­ver.

So the re­turn­ing world junior for­ward is ob­vi­ously ex­cited for the chance to wear the Cana­dian jersey on the same ice sur­face where that hap­pened dur­ing the tour­na­ment this month.

“It should be a lot of fun and hope­fully we can come out with the same gold-medal re­sult there,” the Knights star said. “We had good sup­port in Buf­falo last year and I think it will be great from our fans there.

“I’m ex­cited to play in front of them.”

Hold­ing the fort

Even though the Knights beat Erie 8-1 a week ago, Joseph Raay­mak­ers made a num­ber of spec­tac­u­lar saves in that game.

There is a les­son for many young goal­tenders in his per­for­mance there. Don’t play to the score.

“It’s some­thing I learned over the years,” the over-ager said. “If you’re up five or six goals or down the same, you have to com­pete and bat­tle for your team and give them the next save. Re­ally, you just go and play and don’t about any­thing more than that. Even if a bad goal goes in, we’re there to sup­port each other.”

Raay­mak­ers played on some qual­ity teams in Sault Ste. Marie be­fore ask­ing to be traded last year. He be­lieves this team has a depth to it you don’t of­ten find on many junior ros­ters.

“It’s nice to have highly skilled play­ers on for­ward and D,” he said. “It’s kind of nice to be set up that way and we be­lieve in the Hunters. They’re very good at their jobs and we trust they’re go­ing to work their hardest to give us the best chance to win ev­ery game.”

DEREK RUTTAN/THE LON­DON FREE PRESS

Lon­don Knights de­fence­man Wil­liam Loc­head slams King­ton Fron­te­nacs for­ward Cameron Hough into the glass dur­ing the first pe­riod of their OHL game at Bud­weiser Gar­dens on Fri­day night. The Knights won 8-1, their 15th straight vic­tory.

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