BY ZACHARY CORMIER
They were the hottest team in the Canadian Hockey League coming into the 2016 MasterCard Memorial Cup tournament at Red Deer’s ENMAX Centrium.
Now, 10 days later, the London Knights are the Memorial Cup champions.
The Knights capped off an incredible 17 game winning streak that dated back to the second round of the Ontario Hockey League playoffs Sunday evening defeating the QMJHL Champion Rouyn-Noranda Huskies 3-2 in overtime to claim their second Memorial Cup since 2005.
“It’s one of those things, it’s hard to get. It takes a lot of time and I’m just happy for the boys, they earned it all year. To win 17 in a row in playoff time, in this tournament, you’re playing the best, it’s unheard of,” said Knights’ Head Coach/GM Dale Hunter after the dramatic conclusion to the game.
Led by the dominant line of Mitch Marner, Matthew Tkachuck and Christian Dvorak, the Knights cruised to the bye into the final during round robin play, posting a 3-0 record that included a 6-2 win over the Red Deer Rebels, a 9-1 trouncing ofthe Brandon Wheat Kings and a slightly closer 5-2 victory over the Huskies earlier in the week.
But the Huskies weren’t going to go down without a fight in the final, as they fought the Knights every step of the way, holding them scoreless in the first period before taking a one goal lead halfway through the third that put London behind for the first time in the tournament.
The Knights, though, would not be denied.
“You’ve just got to keep the same mindset. Being down in the third period and coming back we knew what we had to do –bear down. It’s our last game of the season and leave everything on the line,” said Knights’ goalie Tyler Parsons.
Parsons was somewhat of an unsung hero for the Knights during the tournament, leading all four goalies with a 1.78 goals against average and a .942 save percentage to earn himself the Hap Emms Memorial Trophy as the Most Outstanding Goaltender at the Memorial Cup.
Parsons’ showstopping performance on the London end of the ice gave his team a chance to make a comeback from the 2-1 deficit.
And come back they did, as Dvorak scored his seventh goal of the tournament with just five minutes remaining in the third to send the contest into overtime.
“We had the momentum on our side, getting that last minute goal there – we knew what we had to do. It came down to one shot and if we played good defense they were going to give us offensive chances,” Parsons said.
There was only one way the game could end, and after several heart-stopping close plays on both ends, the game came down to a two on one for London, with Tkachuck rifling in the goal heard around the hockey world.
“It’s right up there with all of the accolades, all of the awards. But it’s not about my goal. It’s about the team, it’s about the win, it’s about the 17 game winning streak, it’s about the way we carried ourselves into this tournament and the way we carried ourselves throughout this tournament,” said the 18-year-old draft eligible winger of his overtime winner.
Meanwhile, the host Red Deer Rebels were happy with their performance in the tournament overall.
“I’m proud of our players. We deserved to be in this game tonight. We had a 2-1 record and we played with this team tonight, too,” said Rebels’ Head Coach/GM Brent Sutter after his team’s 3-1 loss to the Huskies in the semi-final game on Friday night.
After a 6-2 loss to London in the first game of the tournament, many doubted the Rebels would be able to compete withthe high octane offence that the respective league champions brought to the table.
That all changed after Red Deer surged to a 5-2 win over the Huskies two nights later and followed it up with a dramatic 2-1 overtime victory over the WHL champion Brandon Wheat Kings on Tuesday.
The second win was enough to clinch second place in the round-robin standings behind London and eliminate the winless Wheat Kings from the tournament.
It was a sweet victory for the Rebels, as their season was ended by the Wheat Kings in the WHL Eastern Conference final less than a month ago.
“I guess part of it is no one has short memories. I know that we were beaten in the semis by Brandon and rightly so. They’vegot a very, very good hockey team. That’s the thing about this tournament, you can come in here and be a champion in your own league but if things don’t go exactly right you might not have success in it,” said Sutter.