If you have ever arrived at work to find a few co-workers away, under the weather or otherwise indisposed, then you know the feeling the London Knights had facing the Windsor Spitfires on Friday night at Budweiser Gardens.
Windsor scored three times in the first period and went on to a 4-1 win.
The Knights were missing Brett Brochu and Luke Evangelista away at Team Canada’s final selection camp for the World Junior Hockey Championship.
London defenceman Ethan MacKinnon has an upper body injury and could not play. Defenceman Connor Federkow was out with a non-COVID-related illness and Bryce Montgomery and Landon Sim were serving the first of automatic two-game suspensions for being involved in a second fight in the same stoppage in Kitchener on Dec. 7.
London didn’t even have the luxury of adding 16-year old defenceman Oliver Bonk to their lineup. He has an upper body injury that he sustained playing in the Capital City Challenge in Ottawa.
All of that forced London to use forwards Brody Crane and Liam Gilmartin on defence.
The Spitfires fired pucks from all angles at Knights rookie goalie Owen Flores who made his first start on Budweiser Gardens ice.
Kyle McDonald had a point-blank chance in the first minute of the game that Flores kicked away. The Illinois native turned aside 15 of 18 shots in the opening 20 minutes.
Alex Christopoulos opened the scoring by banging in his own rebound at 9:26 of the first period.
Matt Maggio made it 2-0 just over two minutes later and then Dallas Stars draft pick Wyatt Johnston snapped a shot over the shoulder of Flores with just 2.2 seconds left on the clock.
An early second-period goal by Kyle McDonald at the 3:32 mark pushed the Windsor lead to 4-0 and Knights head coach Dale Hunter elected to put Matt Onuska into the London crease.
Onuska kicked away every puck he saw in the first game he has played since the 2019-20 season. Onuska was only recently cleared to play after recovering from mononucleosis.
The Waterloo, Ont., native made 22 saves in all.
Knights forward Tonio Stranges made a nice move to the inside coming across the Windsor blue line and set up linemate Cody Morgan for his 10th goal of the season at 8:10 of the second for the final goal of the game.
Spitfires netminder Xavier Medina stopped Sean McGurn on a breakaway and made two key saves in the third period to seal the victory for Windsor.
Windsor outshot London 42-22 in the game.
The Knights won 42 of 70 faceoffs.
The London organization honoured the 2021 Vanier Cup Champion Western Mustangs before puck drop on Friday.
Camp has begun
Team Canada’s final selection camp for the 2022 World Junior Hockey Championship got underway on the evening of Dec. 9 in Calgary, the same day players arrived.
Players put on their Team Canada practice gear for what they hope will be more than a month, knowing all too well that the roster is one of the toughest to make. Luke Evangelista and Brett Brochu of the London Knights are joined by Will Cuylle of the Windsor Spitfires, Ryan O’Rourke of the Soo Greyhounds, Shane Wright of the Kingston Fronetnacs and Mason McTavish of the Peterborough Petes as the only OHLers in attendance.
McTavish did not practice Thursday as he awaited the results of a COVID-19 test. Sudbury Wolves defenceman Jack Thompson was originally a part of the selection camp roster but the COVID-19 outbreak within the Wolves organization has kept Thompson from attending.
Brochu is guaranteed to be part of the final roster as Team Canada invited three goaltenders to camp and will be taking all three to the tournament in Edmonton and Red Deer, Alta. beginning on Dec. 26.
Knights sit 6th in CHL Rankings
The London Knights have made the Canadian Hockey League’s top-10 rankings every week since the start of the season. After a victory over the Erie Otters and a loss to Sarnia last week London currently sits seventh.
For the first time this year, another OHL team jumped ahead of the Knights as North Bay came in at number five. London still leads the Battalion in the overall standings by one point with a game in hand. The Western Hockey League is still occupying all of the top spots with Winnipeg, Edmonton, Everett and Kamploops holding down the top four spots, respectively.
The Charlottetown Islanders are fifth followed by North Bay and London. The only other Ontario Hockey League team is Kingston at number 10. The Mississauga Steelheads received an honourable mention.
The Knights will meet the Guelph Storm for the first of two straight Saturday afternoon matchups. The puck will drop at 4 p.m. at Budweiser Gardens.
London and Guelph have played twice and both games have been decided by a goal. The Storm defeated the Knights 4-3 in overtime on a goal that came nine seconds after the drop of the puck to begin OT and Guelph edged London 3-2 in Guelph on Nov. 26.
Coverage will begin at 3:30 on 980 CFPL, at www.980cfpl.ca and on the Radioplayer Canada app.
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