John Erskine’s time with the London Knights pre-dated Dale and Mark Hunter buying the team. But even then he got a taste of the city’s passion for junior hockey.
“I remember going to the playoffs, driving to the rink listening to the radio and it was all London Knights on the radio and giveaways,” the Washington Capitals defenseman said. “I come to the rink, I don’t know what it held, but I’m pretty sure we were way over capacity. We had a tough team, so just the whole OHL experience there was a good one.”
Erskine played three seasons there, all at the old London Ice House on the outskirts of town. That site is a shopping mall now. It wasn’t Still, he said, “When we started winning there, it was a pretty scary place to play at home.”
And Erskine was a scary guy to play against. Just one year in London was enough to make him a second-round pick (39th overall) of the Dallas Stars in 1998. Pete James, known as the “Godfather of Sports” in London, praised Erskine more for his play two years later: 12 goals, 31 assists and the Max Kaminsky Trophy awarded to the most outstanding defenseman in the Ontario Hockey League.
Erskine, 31, grew up in London under the tutelage of trainer Don “Branks” Brankley” and saw up-close how big of a deal junior hockey was there.
“I think when I first got there, they had that losing reputation and they put together a good team and started winning and the fans started coming,” Erskine said. “Just the whole city blew up.”
It has only continued even stronger since the Hunters bought the team in 2000, just after Erskine left.
“I’ve heard stories about when he took over. It was probably the most desirable place to play, when you talk to some young guys and that’s where they went and it’s where they wanted to be. I worked out with [current defenseman and Pittsburgh Penguins second-round pick] Scott Harrington, who had nothing but good things to say,” Erskine said. “When I was there, we were good, but I heard Dale’s done some good things. It’s like Hockeytown there.”