They’ve been around for more than four decades, but for the past 17 years the London Knights have been a perennial contender in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) and along with that they’ve become a team built on tradition.
From consistent playoff appearances to the almost yearly production of NHL first-round talent, the Knights have developed a history that players tend to enjoy being a part of. But in their final home game of the 2016-17 regular season, the Knights honoured three of their own in yet another tradition for the playoff-bound club.
Bidding A Royal Farewell
Born in 1996, it means that by the OHL’s standards, you’re an over-ager. For Owen MacDonald, JJ Piccinich and Dante Salituro, that also means that this is their final year with the Knights and with the OHL itself.
While the Knights are headed into yet another OHL playoff season and these three will surely play in front of the London crowd again before their junior careers come to an end, the Knights honoured them in a pre-game ceremony on Friday night prior to taking on the Flint Firebirds in their final home game of the regular season.
Each of the three players were called out onto the ice individually and presented with a framed Knights jersey with their name and number stitched onto it.
Along with the jersey, each player was given a chance to say a little something in front of the home crowd as their regular season farewell.
All of them thanked their families, their billets and the Hunters for the chance to play in London. They expressed their appreciation for the chance to play for the Knights organization and each one of them gave a shoutout to the London faithful that filled Budweiser Gardens on St. Patrick’s Day.
“I can’t think of a better place to end my junior career,” said Salituro who had a short-lived career with the Knights coming over in a trade. “Thank you to the fans. You guys are the best.”
MacDonald and Piccinich echoed similar sentiments toward the crowd with Piccinich noting at the end of his thanks: “Most importantly, I want to thank the best fans in the CHL.”
The captain of the 2016-17 edition of the Knights, Piccinich came to the team prior to the 2015-16 season after spending a year in the NCAA with Boston University. Right away, he was a hit. He scored 66 points in 66 games in his rookie season and added 12 points in 18 playoff games as the Knights went on to with the J. Ross Robertson Cup as OHL champs.
He helped their cause in their Memorial Cup run as well that year adding three points in their four games.
Even prior to his joining the Knights, Piccinich was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the fourth round, 103rd overall in 2014.
This season, he’s already surpassed his point total from last year and he will likely climb into the top 80 on the franchise’s all-time points list by the end of the season.
Salituro came to the Knights after three seasons with the Ottawa 67’s and some time in the American Hockey League (AHL) with the Cleveland Monsters and the ECHL with the Cincinnati Cyclones and Norfolk Admirals this season.
And he hasn’t disappointed in his time with the Knights. Heading into the game on Friday, he had 21 points in 27 games for London while playing among the team’s bottom six forwards.
While Salituro went undrafted in two straight NHL Entry Drafts, the Columbus Blue Jackets ended up signing the 20-year-old to a three-year entry level contract.
The longest current serving Knight, MacDonald spent four full seasons with the Knights after playing three games with the team to close out the 2012-13 season. While he remains undrafted and unsigned past this year, the Brad Marchand-type player is having his most successful year of junior hockey with almost 40 points in just under 60 games played.
He’ll finish his Knights career among the top 30 in franchise games played (during the regular season). He won a Memorial Cup with the Knights in 2015-16 and will remain a fan favourite even after his career is over in London.
The Knights have always prided themselves on the continuation of tradition. Whether it be playoffs, NHL-calibre players or simply paying tribute to those leaving their ranks, the Knights are a team that will continue to build the history that already exists in the Forest City.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.