Even as he's immersed in the Washington Capitals' playoff run, Dale Hunter has kept an eye on the London Knights, the junior team he co-owns along with his brother Mark. When the Caps beat the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the first-round playoff series, Hunter smiled when told the Knights won, too.
"Double winner tonight," he said.
On Friday night, London won again, this time beating the Niagara Ice Dogs 2-1 to wrap up the Ontario Hockey League final and secure a spot in the Memorial Cup. It's the Knights' first trip to the Memorial Cup since 2005, when they won it at home.
But this wasn't supposed to be the Knights' year. Expectations were low.
"Not this good," coach Mark Hunter said in March. "We took off, our goaltender's been good, our D's been very good. We've got scoring; we're pretty young up front."
"This was our rebuild year," Dale Hunter said. "We made the playoffs last year, got beat out by Owen Sound, which won our league, in six games. I think last year from experience of playing these young kids that we had, [Matt and Ryan Rupert] and all these guys, that they got experience and they're better for it this year."
With OHL MVP goaltender Michael Houser, Boston Bruins prospect Jared Knight and captain Jared Tinordi leading the way, the Knights moved the rebuild project up quickly. Jared's father and ex-Caps defenseman Mark said last month they'd need "a little luck" to get this far.
"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," Mark Tinordi said. "But if they can play the first couple series and have short series, I think that'll be beneficial."
After beating Saginaw in six, the Knights swept Kitchener to reach the OHL final. Niagara was gone in five games, and London will open the Memorial Cup against Caps prospect Stan Galiev and the Saint John Sea Dogs on May 19 in Shawinigan, Quebec.
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