The London Knights didn’t get much time to celebrate their second straight Ontario Hockey League title.
The club will be on the ice for the opener of the 2013 MasterCard Memorial Cup against the host Saskatoon Blades on Friday night, just four days after beating the Barrie Colts in a dramatic Game 7.
The Knights got a goal from Bo Horvat — which required a lengthy video review — with less than a second remaining in the third period to clinch the title.
Despite the quick turnaround, London head coach Dale Hunter expects his team to come out flying as the franchise looks to win its second Canadian Hockey League title.
“That’s what hockey’s all about. You get three or four days rest and they’re kids,” Hunter said at the coaches’ media availability on Wednesday night. “If you’re a hockey player all you want to do is play games so I think they’ll be anxious to play.”
The Knights still feel the sting of last season’s final game, a 2-1 overtime loss to the host Shawinigan Cataractes in the Memorial Cup final.
“You can’t forget about things like that. We wanted to win that game but at the same time we’ve used it to our advantage all year,” Knights forward Max Domi said after Thursday’s practice at the Credit Union Centre. “Going out every game, every shift with that feeling of losing and wanting to get back here. You can’t think about it too much and let it dictate how you play but we’re back here now and we want to make that happen.”
Hunter, who also owns the team, left the Knights’ bench 26 games into last season to take a job with the Washington Capitals. He had a 30-23-7 record with Washington and upset the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins in the first round before bowing out in the Eastern Conference semi-finals.
He returned from his NHL stint to find a roster in London loaded with talent that was hungry to get back to the national tournament.
“You win your league, which is tough, and then you lose in overtime which makes it tough,” Hunter said. “Definitely the older guys that were there are eager to get back to try to win it this year.”
The other participants at the round-robin tournament are the Halifax Mooseheads of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and the Portland Winterhawks of the Western Hockey League.
The Knights are led offensively by Horvat and Domi, who are ranked 15th and 19th among North American skaters by NHL Central Scouting ahead of June’s draft.
Horvat had 33 goals and 28 assists in 67 regular-season games before adding 23 points (16G, 7A) in 21 playoff games. Domi, meanwhile, had 39 goals and 48 assists in 64 regular-season games before adding 33 points (11G, 21A) in 21 post-season contests.
Another player to watch on the Knights is Russian defenceman Nikita Zadorov. The 22nd ranked North American skater had six goals, 19 assists and tied Domi for the team lead at plus-33 in the regular season.
On the goaltending front, Hunter has yet to name either Anthony Stolarz or Jake Patterson as his starter, although the latter finished the series against the Colts.
Regardless of who gets the call in goal, the Knights head into the tournament a confident bunch that’s looking to take care of some unfinished business.
“It was pretty special to be a part of this last year,” Domi said. “It’s the best junior players in the world. It’s a lot of fun. We didn’t win last year so we’re back for more.”
Note: The Knights have been selected to host the 2014 Memorial Cup, beating out the Barrie Colts and the Windsor Spitfires. The Knights won the Memorial Cup as hosts back in 2005.