Sure, the regular season a month away for the London Knights and granted the team’s roster hasn’t exactly been set in stone, but the first exhibition game is in the books for the defending Ontario Hockey League champs. It’s time to compare the old with the new, the 2004-05 team to the current squad.
The measurement between past and present has been going on for some time. The comparisons of London’s first-ever Memorial Cup winning squad have been coming since the Knights lost in back-to-back years of Canadian Hockey League tournament, back in May.
Some people couldn’t even wait until after Friday’s (Aug. 30) 5-1 pre-season win at Budweiser Gardens against the Sarnia Sting before swapping notes with other fans between whistles.
“Our top guys are a little different then what we had here and it’s tough to put them in that mold, but yeah, of course, I can see why people would compare,” said Knights’ assistant coach Dylan Hunter.
Maybe it’s the fact the Forest City is hosting the next national championship just like it did when the club claimed its first junior hockey supremacy.
Maybe it’s because the the-Knights were loaded with talent, having four players selected in the NHL draft preceding the banner season to bring the team’s total to eight members part of the big league picking process. Two more players were drafted after the championship season. Also, the old team had two first-round picks on the roster in Perry in 2003 and Rob Schremp in 2004.
In the preseason opener alone the Knights had eight players dressed who have already been drafted. Four players were selected in the first-round of the recent draft, held late June, and two of them hit the ice at Budweiser Gardens for the pre-season — Max Domi and Michael McCarron.
London’s season starts Sept. 20 at home against the Plymouth Whalers in a rematch of last year’s Western Conference final. The NHL’s season starts Oct. 1, the American Hockey League season starts Oct. 4 and the East Coast Hockey League begins Oct. 18.
The 2005 team had the benefit of an NHL lockout keeping guys like point leader Corey Perry in London, but the 2013-14 club may have players leaving by the time October hits.
“Obviously it’s a little quicker of a game now, but you can compare some of our guys," Hunter said. "You got Max (Domi) and Bo (Horvat) compared to the Corey Perrys and the Dave Bolands, but like I said it is a little bit different."
Maybe it’s because both London squads were/are more than a one-trick pony that the comparison is easy to do.
The 04-05 Knights had six players collecting more than 20 goals.
Last year London had the same amount of players hitting the 20-mark who — as of right now — are all still with the team, except for Seth Griffith. The future is bright for them to have even more.
“It’s just staying within the team, learning from the coaches, getting better from your teammates around you, being a leader in the room and having fun with all the guys everyday,” said last year’s team point leader Max Domi, getting mic’d up, along with Hunter and Michael McCarron, for Friday’s exhibition game as part of Sportsnet’s TV show documenting the Knights as they charge into the Memorial Cup.
Maybe it’s the low numbers of rookie’s on both teams giving way to the comparisons.
The 04-05 team had four rookies playing in at least 1/3 of the season. The 13-14 squad isn’t finalized, but if you look on the OHL website there are four players with a blank slate on London’s current roster (Mitchell Marner, Christian Dvorak, McCarron and Aiden Jamieson) after a season where six London rookies played 1/3 of the season.
“After that first goal and hearing all the fans cheering, I hoped I could get one to hear them cheer too. It was great to finally get out there and get some positive feedback,” Marner said after his team’s first pre-season game where he picked up two goals in his debut. “I was really nervous at the start and then after my first shift I felt great and just kept continuing on.”
Maybe fans just want to compare the two teams because they see some extra hope not seen in the original all-Canadian winners.
Even with last year’s captain Scott Harrington gone, this season’s team has depth in age on the blue line.
The first Memorial squad had just one defenceman at the age of 20 to start the season. If everyone comes back from last year the Knights will have four.
What might turn out to be the same between the Memorial Cup hosting clubs in the D-core hasn’t even happened yet.
There should be no surprise if London’s staff did something this year that gave them an extra push in the 04-05 season, adding fifth-year defenceman Daniel Girardi in a trade with Midwest Division foes Guelph Storm just past the midway mark.
Maybe fans just need to confirm their reasoning in believing this really is “their year.”
Are the Knights going to break the OHL’s regular season point record in the standings? It would be extremely tough. Are they going to surpass the team’s 31 games in a row without a loss (29-0-2)? It would be unbelievable after a season where they had 24 straight wins and there aren’t any ties anymore to give a little help in extending such a streak.
One thing is for sure. The Knights will have another chance to do something only one other London team has done and that’s win a Memorial Cup.
“We’re ourselves. We’re our own team and it’s a different team,” Domi said. “Obviously they won and we’re trying to win so we have the same goal, but at the same time we’re completely different teams. We’re just focusing on getting better tomorrow.”
London will hit the road to Sarnia today (Saturday) to play the Sting before playing the Plymouth Whalers on Sept. 13 at Budweiser Gardens and then the following day at St. Thomas’ Timkin Community Centre.