LONDON, Ontario | Danny Syvret is reminded of his time with the London Knights anytime he sees Murray and Stephanie Saunders. They were his host parents when he was in the Ontario Hockey League, and he still keeps in touch like family.
Anytime the Saunders see one of the players they used to house, they bring a care package. For Syvret, that includes packs of “Ah Caramel” pastries, and, of course, a Dora the Explorer or Polly Pocket toy – something to show they can embarrass and care at the same time.
Living with the Saunders family was a major part of the defenseman’s stay in London, though his time playing for Dale Hunter was made just about perfect by winning the Memorial Cup in 2005.
“Well, we won,” Syvret said. “That makes every experience great.”
Syvret grew up under the Saunders’ and the Hunters’ watch, both as a person and a player. The captain of the championship team, he recalled the whole group of players he broke in with growing together.
“We were a group of 17-year-old kids. It was [Corey] Perry, [Marc] Methot, [Kyle] Quincey was there. [David] Bolland. We were all a bunch of young kids that sort of came in and really didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into,” said Syvret, who is currently a defenseman in the St. Louis Blues’ organization. “The city actually took the team by storm pretty well. You could throw a Knights logo on anything in the city and they would buy it. We always had sold-out buildings and we always had a good product on the ice and energetic.
“Our second year we were all a year older and we actually No. 1 in Canada and got upset by Guelph in the playoffs. Our final year was the year of the NHL lockout where we sort of dominated the league for 68 games and then in the playoffs.”
Syvret, who texted Dale Hunter when he took the job with the Washington Capitals, praised his old coach and Mark Hunter for how the franchise grew over time. He spends his summers in London and runs the local professional skates at John Labatt Centre in September, keeping in close contact with many fellow alums.
“I loved playing in London, and I think that’s why it draws a lot of guys back. For one, the city embraces a bunch of 16-to-20-year-old kids like they’re their own,” Syvret said. “And it’s like a little NHL organization; for a kid who’s 16 to 20 years old, it’s pretty sweet.”