Knights Sweep Ice Dogs; Brandon Title Hopes On Hold
While the London Knights were punching their Memorial Cup ticket Wednesday night, the Brandon Wheat Kings were getting punched out in Kent, Wash.
The Knights captured the Ontario Hockey League championship with a 1-0 win over the host Niagara IceDogs, completing a sweep of the best-of-seven series.
Meanwhile, the Wheat Kings’ Western Hockey League title hopes were put on hold as the visitors fell 6-1 to the Seattle Thunderbirds. Brandon leads the best-of-seven set 3-1 and can claim the league crown Friday in Kent.
If the T-Birds prevail again, the series will shift back to Brandon for a sixth game Sunday and possibly a seventh contest Monday.
The Knights already have their place in the Memorial Cup tournament, set for May 20-29 at the Centrium. London will take on the host Rebels in the opening game of the national major junior championship event.
London roared through the OHL playoffs, posting a 16-2 record that included sweeps of the former No. 2 nationally-ranked Erie Otters (London finished the regular season as No. 3) and the No. 6 ranked Kitchener Rangers.
Tuesday’s win was their 13th in succession. The visiting Knights got a first-period goal from Christian Dvorak and then employed a stifling defensive style — limited the highly-talented IceDogs to 18 shots overall — to earn their fourth Memorial Cup berth in five years.
Considering the manner in which they mowed down their OHL post-season opponents, comparisons to the 2005 version of the Knights — led by future NHLers Cory Perry and Dave Bolland — are inevitable.
“I don’t compare (championships),” London coach Dale Hunter told Ryan Pyette of the London Free Press, “but I’ll say this — it was the same amount of losses (two in 18 post-season games) as ’05. This group put up a helluva battle. They did it as a team.”
The Knights boast a top line of Dvorak, Maple Leafs prime prospect Mitch Marner and Matthew Tkachuk — the latter a projected top-five pick in this year’s NHL entry draft — that averaged more than two points per game during the playoffs.
Tyler Parsons might be the first North American goaltender taken in this year’s draft, while projected first-round NHL draft pick Olli Joulevi and Victor Mete contributed a total of 80 points from the back end through the regular season.
Forward Max Jones, another projected first-round selection next month, sniped 25 regular-season goals, Aaron Berisha potted 45 and J.J. Pinnich was a point-per-game forward with 30 goals and 36 assists in 66 games.
In total, the Knights roster features eight NHL drafted/signed players and eight more expected to be selected in June.
The IceDogs’ lineup boasted 11 NHL drafted/signed players, making London’s final series sweep all that much more impactful.
“Thirteen wins in a row is pretty impressive,” said Tkachuk, London’s 20-goal playoff man. “I don’t think I’ve won this much since I was in squirt. “This is a special team and it was awesome to be a part of it.
“We’re going to the Memorial Cup rolling on all cylinders.”
The Knights were the highest-scoring team in the country, but cinched the OHL title with a stunning lock-down performance.
“We’re a team that takes our defence seriously,” Marner told the Free Press. “That’s what I think a lot of people don’t get about us. I’m proud of how we’ve been going right now and we’ve got to make sure we stay that route into next week.”
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With their season on the line, the Thunderbirds got two-goal outings from Ryan Gropp and Alexander True en route to their convincing win over Brandon.
Gropp scored a first-period goal and Seattle took the first two-goal lead of the series when True connected at 7:37 of the middle frame.
Netminder Landon Bow also came up big, making 30 saves overall, including several of the excellent variety when Brandon roared out of the gates in an effort to wrap up the series.
“There’s no better feeling than starting a game out hot,” Bow told Jim Riley of the Seattle Times. “It was do or die. We couldn’t afford to get behind, so it was good to get the lead right off the bat.”
Donovan Neuls and Ethan Bear put the game on ice with third-period goals for Seattle.
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The Rouyn-Noranda Huskies, with a 3-1 series lead, have a chance to claim the Quebec Major Hockey League crown Thursday evening versus the visiting Shawinigan Cataractes.