Wednesday, April 22, 2009

OHL playoffs: Hunting for the reason London lost...

A butterfly flapping its wings can cause a tidal wave on the other side of the world.

In the spirit of that, it's fun to think that the London Knights losing four overtime games in the OHL semi-final series vs. the Windsor Spitfires all traces back to a crazy carom in Kingston at the end of January. There are better explanations for why the Windsor Spitfires, led by Kingston native Taylor Hall, won a series where every game went to overtime, including one in the hometown press from Spits d-man Ben Shutron, an ex-Frontenac: "I don't think it's just bounces. The puck doesn't lie out there. You have to work for your bounces."

The puck doesn't lie. That's brilliant. The focus probably should be on the turnaround in Windsor, which is off the OHL final just a few years after, wait for it, a change in management and ownership. It bears pointing out to people in Kingston who believe you can rebuild even though the house has slid off its foundation, causing the GM-for-life to fall off his rocking chair.

That can wait. Perhaps the cosmos decided the Knights did not need karma, since they had John Tavares and team honchos Dale and Mark Hunter have managed to break the spirit if not the letter of the law when it comes to the OHL draft.

Perhaps the annual airlift at the trade deadline worked against the Knights developing the team chemistry which is critical in playoff hockey. Getting Tavares might have been Pyrrhic, since it meant there were too many egos for the Hunters to stroke in that dressing room. The most talented team is the one which has a talent for taking the game by the throat, even when logic might say they shouldn't.

That said, it's easy, and fun, to believe that some great organizing principle might have decided the Knights deserved to have something bad befall them, and it all really started Jan. 30 in Kingston. For one night, the Frontenacs were not so godforsaken, beating the mighty Knights 3-2. Ethan Werek scored the game-winning goal with 4.5 seconds left in the game when a dump-in by Taylor Doherty struck a glass stanchion in the corner and went straight out in front of the net, gifting Werek with a chance to one-timed the puck behind Knights goalie Trevor Cann (around the 5:00 mark of the clip).

TVCogeco's fine commentator, Tim Cunningham noted, "You'll never see a place with stranger bounces than the K-Rock Centre." That might well be true, although the Ottawa Civic Centre, with its square corners peculiar to Eastern Canada arena construction, have yielded an odd carom of two in its day.

What no one could have known then was that bounce was a gift from the hockey gods. They know wel Kingston fans have, mixaphorically speaking, wandered the desert for quite some time. This was Kingston's 36th season in the OHL, so only four more to catch Moses and his followers.

Knights coach Dale Hunter, who in his playing days was known to occasionally be a sore loser, could not have appreciated that some higher power decided, for one night, to give a damn about Frontenacs fans, who have seemed completely forsook over the past couple years with owner Doug Springer and GM-for-life Larry Mavety. Forgive him, he knows not what he does.

All he saw was that his stacked team lost to the Kingston effing Frontenacs, and when they had a rematch four weeks later in London, he ran up the score at the end of the game. Tavares was going for the OHL career goal scoring record, so Hunter had him out on the power play with two minutes left in a blowout, goal-sucking like no one has goal-sucked before. Of all the games to pick to do the first liveblog ever of a Kingston Frontenacs game!

It seemed like only your agent, along with Kinger and maybe Mister DB from Fronts Talk, noticed.

However, the boys in the Ironic Punishment division went to work. Trevor Cann, God love him, who was a great bad-team goalie in Peterborough, never became the rock between the pipes London had envisioned. Hunter actually had to pull Daryl Borden, a former Frontenac, up from Junior B for Game 4 of the series, which almost worked. Tavares also became snakebitten, unable to score goals except on the power play. Only four of his 10 playoff goals came at even strength, which isn't very No. 1 overall pick-like (see Islanders Point Blank for discussion of same). Taylor Hall, who's supposed to go No. 1 in 2010, has scored eight of his 12 playoff goals at even strength. Hall's goal last night that got Windsor started on the road back from an early 2-0 deficit was on the PP, but please don't spoil the analogy.

Cann, by most accounts, stood on his head to keep London in the series on Wednesday with 49 saves, but there was no changing this "script," to borrow the London Free Press' wording.

It is an unlikely story Windsor is writing. Not only did every game go into overtime, but none lasted as long as 11 minutes, and there is the obvious point that great feats are possible for a team and a town once it is rid of lousy ownership and management. One should obviously be happy for everyone connected to the Spitfires, since these are tough times in Windsor. That would be the gracious move, but having a love-hate relationship with sports and having grace class are not one and the same, so why pretend?

There's some background that needed providing. There are more obvious explanations for why London lost and Windsor won, but it says here the Knights were doomed from March 1, when Dale Hunter rubbed it in the noses of Kingston Frontenacs fanbase, who are the hockey gods' chosen people, full as they are with suffering and true believers.

It's just a theory. You know the old saying how theories are like a cuss word that often comes up in conjunction the Hunter brothers. It ends, Everyone's got one.

Overtime kills Knights (Ryan Pyette, London Free Press)


Dennis Prouse said...

Whenever the Hunters lose a game, an angel gets its wings. (Did you ever hear Hunter's excuse for the cheapshot on Turgeon? He said he thought the play was still ongoing.)

I think Tavares has now fallen out of the number one slot, BTW. Wouldn't it be funny to see Burke wheel and deal to get the number one pick overall, and then walk to the podium to take Hedman instead...

Anonymous said...

If burke took hedman over taveras the media and gta fan base would go nuts and not in a good way.Then over all the canadian fans and media would be all over them for that move as well.

Anonymous said...

Cann had the flu for the first 3 games of the series, he played games 2 and 3 with chills and fever. Thats the reason he looked shaky in the series.