115 days after the London Knights won the second Memorial Cup in franchise history, they’re ready to try and do it again.
The Knights begin their season Wednesday night at 7:05 p.m. in Sarnia against the Sting, one of two games on the schedule for opening night in the OHL.
The Knights and Sting can be heard on AM980, the new broadcast home for the Knights, starting with the pre-game show at 6:30 p.m. Mike Stubbs will do the play-by-play.
The team that takes the ice at the RBC Centre in Sarnia will look dramatically different than the Knights squad that ended last season with 17 straight wins in the playoffs.
London is missing a league high 16 players who are away at NHL training camps. While many are expected to return, it’s possible Knights fans have seen the last of Mitch Marner, Matthew Tkachuk or even Olli Juolevi in a Knights jersey.
Knights co-owner, president and head coach Dale Hunter told AM980 missing players to NHL camps is part of the game.
“When you’re playing on the street and on the ponds your dream is to score the winning goal in the Stanley Cup Final in the National Hockey League. That’s their dream, so we’re rooting for them, we’re 100% behind them and hopefully they make it.”
The roster isn’t the only thing to change since last year, Rob Simpson has taken over as GM, replacing Basil McRae who joined the Columbus Blue Jackets as their director of player personnel.
Simpson spent four years as an assistant coach and was most recently McRae’s assistant GM. Jake Goldberg, who is known for his analytics prowess, takes over as the new assistant GM.
Last season will be hard to beat. The Knights beat Rouyn-Noranda in overtime to win the Mastercard Memorial Cup, the second in franchise history.
London won 51 games in the regular season, the fourth time they’ve eclipsed the 50-win mark, and ended the season by winning 17 playoff games in a row, a record.
Hunter said the season will be a grind.
“We’ve owned this team since 2000 and only twice we actually won the last game, that means you’ve won it all. That’s why we have two Memorial Cup, so it’s a lot, it’s a lot of sacrifice by the players.
It will take some time to determine the roster for the long haul. Included in the 16 players who are away at NHL training camps are all four players who are eligible for the Knights three overage positions. The list includes JJ Piccinich, Owen MacDonald, Chris Martenet and Chandler Yakimowicz.
18-year-old Emanuel Vella and the newly-acquired Tyler Johnson will duel in net for minutes behind Tyler Parsons, who is away at camp with the Calgary Flames with Tkachuk.
Reigning CHL Player of the Year Mitch Marner will get a long look with the Toronto Maple Leafs and could begin the season in blue and white. In his absence, the Knights will lean on Max Jones, Cliff Pu and Janne Kuokkanen, another new addition.
Americans Kole Sherwood and Sam Miletic will be back in London this season. The 19-year-old Miletic returns to the Knights after spending half the season in London last year.
Kuokkanen is a second round pick of the Carolina Hurricanes and recorded 22 goals and 53 points in 47 games with Karpat in the Finnish Junior league last season.
2016 first round pick Liam Foudy will get some playing time early on as will second year players Robert Thomas, Evan Bouchard and Nicolas Mattinen.
Hunter said he enjoys working with young players.
“I’ve seen the young Corey Perry’s come in, the Rick Nash’s come in, the Danny Syvret’s come in, they’re young. It’s our job to school them and get them better on the ice and off the ice, how to train, how to eat properly and go to school. It’s a whole process but it’s fun to see the young guys.”
The defence could be a strong point for London this year if Martenet and Juolevi return. The defence core will also feature shutdown defender Brandon Crawley, Victor Mete, Bouchard and Mattinen.
AM980 is the new broadcast home for the London Knights. AM980 has entered into an agreement to be the official broadcaster of the London Knights starting in the 2016-17 season and for the following four seasons.
Mike Stubbs returns to do play-by-play with Jim Van Horne providing colour commentary.
The Knights home opener will be Friday at Budweiser Gardens against the Erie Otters at 7:30 p.m.