Major junior hockey is typically similar to an old mining town; the boom and bust cycle is an accepted way of life.
Then there’s the London Knights, who’ve basically blown up that notion by winning the Ontario League regular season points crown the past four years.
And while they won’t win it again this year, the team run by GM Mark Hunter and coached by his brother Dale, keeps racking up the victories and could quite conceivably end the season among the top five in the OHL standings.
The Knights’ ability to stay at the head of the class is made even more remarkable considering the heavy losses they’ve endured.
The team probably knew it could kiss off one of Patrick Kane or Sam Gagner after last year’s NHL draft, but losing both was a devastating blow. It’s almost unheard of for an entire league to lose two freshly drafted players in one year, let alone a single team.
The Knights also said goodbye to 20-year-old Sergei Kostitsyn. If you’re counting, that’s three players who scored better than two points per game last season out the window.
Then in January, Mark Hunter made two very bold, beautiful moves. Recognizing his team was competitive, but not championship-caliber, he shipped 21-year-old captain Adam Perry (younger brother of former Knight Corey Perry) to Belleville. He also sent star goalie and world juniors MVP Steve Mason to Kitchener.
In doing so, Hunter acquired the draft picks and youth required to ensure his team will be sitting pretty for years to come. And, through it all, the Knights keep winning.
I bet even the mighty Red Wings wouldn’t fare so well if they lost Henrik Zetterberg, Tomas Holmstrom and Pavel Datsyuk to free agency, then traded Dominik Hasek and Dan Cleary mid-season.
Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment president Richard Peddie always talks about how winning and building don’t need to be mutually exclusive, yet his team does neither.
Mark Hunter’s team continually does both.
Calgary has its hard hat; the Cats have their cape.
Part of the fun of the Flames’ run to the 2004 Cup final was seeing which grinning, gritty player would be wearing a hard hat during post-game interviews.
The construction worker lid was doled out by then-coach Darryl Sutter to the player who most consistently busted his butt throughout the game.
I’ve seen other variations on the theme – some teams give out the lunch pail – but the Florida Panthers took it to a new level Tuesday night when Brett McLean was wearing a superhero cape following his career-high one-goal, five-point performance during an 8-0 trashing of Toronto.
I wonder if some vindictive/humorous coach has ever contemplated sticking goat horns on a player who made a particularly dubious, game-costing play?
Ryan Dixon is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey’s Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Wednesdays and his column, Top Shelf, appears every second Friday.
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