LONDON, Ontario | This wasn’t supposed to be the year for the London Knights. They’re young. They’re inexperienced.
But they still finished first in the Ontario Hockey League’s Midwest Divison and Western Conference.
“This was our rebuild year,” Dale Hunter said. “I think last year from experience of playing these young kids that we had … that they got experience and they’re better for it this year.”
The Knights have seven forwards who are 17 or younger, something that could prove to be a problem in the playoffs, which begin Friday night.
Coach and general manager Mark Hunter said he didn’t expect this year’s team to be “this good,” thanks to so much youth. Experience on the blue line helps, but key contributors like Max Domi and Bo Horvath are still growing up.
“They’ve got a lot of young forwards that if they were one year older, they’d be a pretty dominant team,” said Mark Tinordi, the ex-Washington Capitals defenseman who is the father of captain Jarred. “I think it’s just been a bonus this year being so good.”
Goaltending in the form of Michael Houser (46-15-0, 2.47 goals-against average, .925 save percentage) and strength on defense from Jarred Tinordi, Olli Maatta and Scott Harrington has helped.
“We took off, our goaltender’s been good, our D’s been very good,” Mark Hunter said. “We’ve got scoring – we’re pretty young up front – and spread around.”
The Knights boast seven 20-goal scorers, counting trade acquisitions Greg McKegg and Austin Watson.
The future, with Domi leading the charge, is likely to bring many more dominant seasons. But the key to this one continuing well into the spring could be getting through with short series.
“I think they need a little luck. They’re a very young team, and they have a tremendous amount of talent. But they have a lot of young forwards that aren’t physically strong yet,” Mark Tinordisaid. “I think there’s some teams that I’ve seen in that league a little older and lot bigger that if every series goes six, seven games and you’ve got to go the end with these other teams, it could be hard for them. But if they can play the first couple series and have short series, I think that’ll be beneficial.”
Dale Hunter has watched from Washington, often on his computer, as the Knights have impressed beyond expectations. But his sights are now set on the first-round matchup with the Windsor Spitfires, coached by fellow former NHL player Bob Boughner.
“We had a good [regular] season. The playoffs are a totally different animal out there where there’s upsets all the time,” Hunter said. “Windsor’s got a good team, well coached by the Boogeyman and we’re going to have to be ready for them.”