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:eek2: London caps season by winning first Memorial Cup in team's 40-year history

LONDON, Ont. (CP) - Before he handed the London Knights the Memorial Cup, the commissioner of the Canadian Hockey League dubbed them one of the greatest junior teams ever.

There was no arguing with David Branch given the Knights' record-setting campaign, which they capped by shutting down the Rimouski Oceanic 4-0 in the national final Sunday.

Knights coach Dale Hunter and his brother Mark, both former long-time NHL players, bought the franchise five years ago and built it into this team, which was ranked No. 1 in Canada the entire season en route to a 59-7-2 record.

Regular season and playoffs combined, London was 79-9-2.

Knowing what went into building this juggernaut, Dale Hunter was ready to state his junior team is the best ever.

"Yes it is," said Hunter. "We broke every record.

"I don't know if anyone will ever put together a junior team like this."

It was a talented and balanced squad with a solid work ethic, and attention to defence as instilled by Hunter.

London shut out Rimouski, the highest-scoring team in the CHL this season, and Sidney Crosby, the CHL's leading scorer and most valuable player, and outshot the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champions 44-27 on Sunday.

"That shows what a complete team we are," said Knights forward Corey Perry, the tournament's MVP.

There have been teams in the CHL's history that have won 59 and 60 games in a season, such as Brandon and Trois-Rivieres in 1979 and Victoria in 1981.

But those teams were unable to finish the job at the Memorial Cup. The Knights set themselves apart by fulfilling the heavy expectations on them and winning the first Memorial Cup in the franchise's 40-year history in front of their home fans.

"I know people are saying we were arguably the best junior team ever," said Dan Fritsche, who scored a goal and had two assists Sunday. "We knew, if we wanted to prove that, we had to do this."

With a bevy of talented forwards, Hunter had a lot of options up front. He put his son, Dylan Hunter, a first-line forward and one of the team's top scorers, on a checking line with Trevor Kell and Brandon Prust and, together with defencemen Daniel Girardi and Marc Methot, they silenced Crosby's line.

Crosby, 17, is expected to be selected first overall in the next NHL draft. He had a great tournament, leading all scorers with six goals and five assists in five games, but neither he nor his teammates could generate anything against the Knights.

"There's a lot of what if's, but the bottom line is they played a better hockey game," Crosby said.

The Knights' hardworking and disciplined defence protected goaltender Adam Dennis and forced the Oceanic to the outside. At the other end, speedy and skilled forwards such as Perry, Fritsche, Rob Schremp and David Bolland often had the Oceanic defence scrambling. Bolland, Schremp and defenceman Bryan Rodney also scored for London in the final.

The Oceanic had less than 24 hours to recover from beating Ottawa 7-4 in the Saturday semifinal. The fire was out of them. They were a pale shadow of the team that lost 4-3 in overtime to London in a thrilling tournament opener May 21.

The Knights knew from the start of the season they would be in the Memorial Cup as host, but they never coasted. They did not lose a game until Dec. 17. Among the Ontario Hockey League records the Knights set were those for most points and most wins in a season. The Knights weren't satisfied with host status and also won the OHL title.

If the Knights ever felt pressure, it was during their bid to better the 29-game record held by the 1978-79 Brandon Wheat Kings for the longest unbeaten streak in CHL history.

London set the new mark of 30 games without a loss in a nervous 0-0 tie against Guelph on Dec. 10 and then extended it to 31 with a victory two days later.

The players and the coach say the pressure they felt during that run, and the hockey spotlight on them in the absence of the NHL, prepared them to win the Memorial Cup in front of their home fans at the John Labatt Centre.

"Every game was a seventh game when we were in that streak," Hunter said. "The media hype was unbelievable. The kids knew the pressure."

Perry, a first-round pick of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks, and defenceman Danny Syvret, who is undrafted, concluded a dream season for any junior player as they, along with Crosby, also helped Canada win a gold medal at the 2005 world junior championships in January.

"I don't know if you can get a better year in junior hockey," said Syvret, the Knights' captain.

CROSBY WATCH - The tournament's leading scorer with six goals and five assists in five games was named to the all-star team. He reinforced his status as the top prospect in the world for the next NHL draft. Showcasing his superior skills and instincts, he created a buzz whenever he stepped on the ice. Only the top team in the CHL was able to find a way to stop him.

Notes - London's Adam Dennis was named the tournament's top goaltender . . . London's Dennis, Fritsche, Perry, Syvret and Rimouski's Crosby and defenceman Mario Scalzo Jr. were named to the all-star team . . . Attendance at the 2005 Memorial Cup was just over 71,000, putting it fifth all-time . . . The 2006 tournament will be in Moncton.

855 Posts
i was just wondering how london did earlier today, i havent seen any news about it in two months, since the last time i read the free press

1,451 Posts
Congratulations London!
I was lucky enough to get to see a couple games this year, and it's been a blast. Glad the Knights finally got the Memorial.
Sure there was a big party last night!

5,641 Posts
Good old London home and native one.
Not only a great game but a great time to win when there is no NHL and all hockey fans are looking to the minors.
Not only was it great hockey but it also was, refreshingly, violence free.
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