For the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League, it comes down to tonight’s Game 4 of the OHL Championship Series. If the Knights are able to secure a victory over the Niagara IceDogs, not only will they have swept their past three series, but they will be OHL champions for the fourth time in franchise history.
The Knights will take on the IceDogs in what could be the deciding game tonight at the Meridian Centre in St. Catherines. While it’s always nice for a team to win the big game at home, the Knights know just how important it is to maintain momentum in this series.
Winning on the Road, Bittersweet for Knights
With the Knights in perfect position to secure the OHL’s J. Ross Robertson Cup on Wednesday night, the win would be somewhat bittersweet – at least for the fans in London. Sure, they will get to see their team return with the trophy (if, in fact, London is able to win) but not having the team win it at home in Bud Gardens certainly plays on the emotions of the fans.
For management and the London players, their focus isn’t on where they win it. Instead, their simply determined to get the job done.
“That’s what we want,” said Matthew Tkachuk following a three-goal performance in Game 2 in London. “We want to win the OHL championship and the best way to do it is beat them on the road and play really good in their barn.”
And with the 3-0 series lead comes confidence. The Knights who’ve won 12 games in a row dating back to their Game 6 win over Owen Sound, know that this final win won’t come easy.
“Like I said, we’re playing really good hockey right now, so you never know what’s going to happen,” said Tkachuk.
Winning, however, isn’t something new to head coach Dale Hunter and the London Knights franchise. In fact, the Knights have won the Robertson Cup on three occasions since 2004.
Is the Robertson Cup Returning to London?
In 2004-05, the Knights were basically unstoppable. They won the OHL’s Western Conference and recorded 39 more points than the second place Petes and IceDogs (formerly located in Mississauga). They finished with a record of 59-7-2-0 in 68 games during the regular season and closed out the Guelph Storm, Windsor Spitfires, Kitchener Rangers and Ottawa 67s to win the Robertson Cup while only losing two games in the playoffs (one each to Kitchener and Ottawa).
They went on to beat the Rimouski Oceanic in the Memorial Cup – winning it for the first and only time. The Knights were led by Corey Perry, Dylan Hunter, Rob Schremp and Dave Bolland that year and the city of London solidified their spot as a hockey city supporting the Knights on their way to the league and CHL championships.
While they weren’t as dominant in 2011-12, the Knights once again won the OHL’s Western Conference crown as well as the Hamilton Spectator Trophy as the team with the most points in the regular season.
Led by Seth Griffith’s 85 points (45g-40a) in 68 games, the Knights finished with a 49-18-0-1 record during the regular season before dominating the OHL playoffs once again.
The Knights lost just three games during their playoff run (two games to Saginaw in the second round and one game to Niagara in the OHL Championship series). Griffith and Olli Maatta led the Knights through the playoffs combining for 46 points and Michael Houser manned the Knights’ net posting a .928 save percentage and a 2.25 goals against average in the team’s 19 playoff games.
Finally, the Knights went back-to-back winning the Robertson Cup again in 2012-13. They, again, won the OHL’s Western Conference. They tacked on another Hamilton Spectator Trophy with a 50-13-2-3 record (105 points). During the regular season this time, London was led by Max Domi who managed 87 points (39g-48a) in 64 games for the Knights.
London swept Saginaw in the first round of the playoffs before winning in five games against both Kitchener and Plymouth. While the Barrie Colts certainly gave the Knights a run for their money in the OHL Championship series, the Knights were able to take the series in seven games – winning their third J. Ross Robertson Cup.
This year’s Knights are led by the trio of Mitch Marner, Christian Dvorak and Tkachuk. While the three of contributed offensively in a major way, they know that their time together is limited and want to take full advantage of this opportunity.
“When we were first out there as a line I knew that there was a chance that this could be something special,” said Dvorak in an interview with Gare Joyce. “I knew they’re both phenomenal talents. We all play a 200-foot game and we all like to move the puck and we have a good sense of where the other guys are going to be when we’re out there. It’s just good chemistry. I don’t know that you can make that happen or if it just comes together naturally.”
“It’s been really great playing with Matt and Devo but we know we’re only going to be together for as far as we go in the playoffs,” said Marner in the Joyce article.
Owen Sound only team to solve London Knights in playoffs so far. Not sure many predicted that.
— Josh Brown (@BrownRecord) April 28, 2016
While the lineup is only temporary (or in place for the remainder of this season), the Knights are looking more unstoppable as the playoffs continue. Even if the Knights aren’t able to lock down the championship in Game 4, the likelihood of the IceDogs making a comeback is relatively non-existent.
But going forward, the Knights may be the favourite heading into the Memorial Cup in Red Deer – if they’re able to shut down the Niagara for one more game. Hunter’s had a history of building deep teams and this could prove to be one of London’s top teams in the history of the franchise.
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.