Over the years there has been some great CHL Junior hockey teams through out Canada where young hockey players set their roots and developed into great stars of the NHL.
Teams like the 1971 Quebec Ramparts who had a young sniper by the name of Guy Lafleur or the 2006 Ramparts who had the legendary Patrick Roy at the helm to guide the team to a Memeorial Cup win.
Other teams that come to mind are the Cornwall Royals with their winning ways of 1980 and 1981. Stars like Dale Hawerchuk, Marc Crawford, Bobby Hull Jr, Doug Gilmour, Scott Arneil. and a personal friend of mind Graig Halliday who along with Hawechuk and Crawford and others were on both those Championship teams.
Now let’s not forget some of the great Western teams either. The New Westminster Bruins of the 1977 and 1978 seasons had a couple of Hall of Famers playing on both those teams such as Barry Beck and Stan Smyl. Then in 1994 and 1995 the Kamloops Blazers were the team to show future stars as well, Jarome Iginla, Darcy Tucker, Nolan Baumgartner and Tyson Nash both the last two players winning it twice.
One of my all time favorites teams in recent times has been the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL. They went onto win the Cup in 2009 and again in 2010 with players like Ryan Ellis, Eric Wellwood, Adam Wallace (another good friend of the Coach’s) and one of the future starts in the NHL now, Taylor Hall.
But coming back to the year 2013 we are seeing one of the greatest teams being developed in a long time, that team being the London Knights of the OHL. The Knights have had some great teams in the past, 2005 Memorial Cup Knights had a list of players who could make up a NHL club just with their junior roster. The likes of Josh Beaulieu, David Bolland, Gerald Coleman, Adam Dennis, Robbie Drummond, Steve Ferry, Jordan Foreman, Danny Fritsche, Daniel Girardi, Dylan Hunter, Trevor Kell, Drew Larman, Ryan Martinelli, Matt McCready, Marc Methot, Adam Perry, Corey Perry, Brandon Prust, Frank Rediker, Harrison Reed, Bryan Rodney, Robbie Schremp, Danny Syvret, Kelly Thomson, Jeff Whitfield, Mark Hunter (general manager), Dale Hunter (coach). The 2006-07 team was also loaded with All-Stars with the likes of Patrick Kane and Sam Gagner who just couldn’t pull out another Memorial Cup for their London fans.
Looking at the current season for the Knights you will see that this team will be the team to beat in the Coach’s eyes and they have ‘horses’ to do it. Leading scorer Seth Griffith in his third campaigne for the Knights has taken the league scoring over with 73 points. Their power play is ranked 4th in the league and penatly kill is up there to at 5th in the league. What really catch’s the coaches eye is the wins/loses at home and away record. At home they are 19-3-1-2 with 25 games played and the away record with 20 games played is an outstanding 16-4-0-0, and to top it all off they have broken the Knights record of 18 wins straight (2005 Memeorial Cup team) with a record of 24 games with out a loss.
Though the London Knights weren’t always a winning organization (check out the season 1995-96 3-60-3 record, ouch!!) they have had some very good players come through plus they have produced more first overall selections in the NHL Entry Draft (5) than any other team in the world. Such as Darryl Sittler (1970, 8th overall). Rob Ramage (1979, 1st overall), Brendan Shanahan (1987, 2nd overall), Rick Nash (2002, 1st overall), Patrick Kane (2007 1st overall) and another 1st rounder in 2009 would of been John Tavares. But we can not forget lest of all my colleague with GetRealHockey.com Rico Fata who in 1998 was choosen 6th overall by the Calgary Flames, what a great time and a great player too.
Now since the start of the year 2000 the Knights have been growing and building with success because of two people, that being Mark and Dale Hunter. These former NHL players purchased the team from a Mr. Doug Tarry Jr. with the agreement from the City of London that new state of the art building would be built to host not just the Knights but other venues as well, hence the development of then the JLC (John Labatt Centre) which recently has had a name change to Budweiser Gardens. With over 9000 plus seats the Gardens has been rocking since the day it was built, holding the Memorial Cup and winning in 2005.
In the present season, 2012-13 the Knights have been tearing up the OHL like no other team in a long while (maybe as good as the Knights of 2005?). They have the leading scorer in Seth Griffith with great numbers so far, 29 goals, 43 assists, 72 points and a +17 and still two and half months to play, can’t wait to see where he ends up across the CHL scoring race. Plus they have Bo Horvat who is rated #16 in ranking by Central Scouting and two other players in the top 30 in the ranking. Those two are forward Max Domi and defenceman Nikita Zadorov.
Then on top of all the high ranking players for the draft you have the ‘Master GM’, Mark Hunter who has been wheeling ‘n dealing since the beginning of the new year. As of January 1 st he has brought in 3 new faces who will only make the team stronger down the stretch. Coming to the fold is defenceman Dakato Mermis out of the University of Denver. Then on Jan. 8th Hunter signed goalie Anthony Stolarz from the University of Nebraska who is a 2nd round pick of the Philly Flyers-2012. Then baam! the following day Jan 9th, he trades ‘fan fav’ defenceman Kevin Raines to Sudbury in exchange for another defenceman Justin Sefton who was a 3rd round pick of the San Jose Sharks in 2011. Nothing like bolstering your line up hey!
You look over the rest of the CHL teams across Canada and the US and you will see there is some comparision to others clubs but what really sticks out is the way the Knights keep on rolling. They have built this team to be a contender come playoffs but the one strong point that both the Hunter brothers add is that no matter who they play, no matter which league it is, it will be a battle and they feel they have the ‘Knights’ to prevail!
By Warren Nye, UltimateHockeySource.com
January 17th, 2013