The start of the 1999-2000 Ontario Hockey League season has to be considered a major disappointment for the London Knights as the team for The Forest City is currently mired in last place in the competitive Western Division with an unimpressive 2-6-4 record.
But fret not, Knights faithful. Head coach and general manager, for one, is not about to push the panic button, especially in light of last season’s magical ride to the OHL championship series, a titanic struggle the Knights lost in 7 games to the Belleville Bulls.
“The regular season was not exactly a great season for us last season. We started off slow, had a better second half and then enjoyed a great playoff run,” Agnew claimed. “It is better to do it that way because everyone remembers what happened in the playoffs.
“It was a great experience for the entire organization,” Agnew continued. “We had a great group of kids, and they achieved what they did because they worked hard.”
After getting by the Sarnia Sting in the opening round of the post season last spring, the Knights shocked the junior hockey world by eliminating the mighty Plymouth Whalers in seven games.
In fact, the Knights did more than just eliminate the Whalers – they destroyed the boys from Plymouth 10-3 in their own back yard.
“That was a very exciting game, the boys were very tight in the dressing room before the first period, yet they were also very loose and confident,” Agnew recalled. “We felt that if we could get the puck to the net, that we would be just fine.”
Pumping ten goals in to the net of the team that was ranked atop the Canadian Hockey League standings for much of last season would definitely constitute as an achievement. And to accomplish the feat on the road only adds further luster to the accomplishment.
“We had some quality people like Jay Legault, Richard Pitirri and Tom Kotsopoulos” And they really saw the playoffs as a springboard to move on with their careers.”
After harpooning the Whalers, the Knights eliminated the Owen Sound Platers before facing the deciding game in the OHL championship series after falling behind 3 games to one.
“We just had nothing left for that last game,” Agnew admitted.
Although the current campaign has not exactly started out the way the people in London would have liked, Agnew had no difficulty in identifying at least a couple of bright spots for the Knights this season.
“Our top pick, (right-winger) Matthew Albiani, is just out of bantam hockey (Sudbury), but he is already playing on our top line with Brett Gibson and Chris Kelly (center),” Agnew claimed. “And our second round pick, Aaron Loob, is a big (6’4″, 190-lb) right-winger who has the strength and skill to perform well at this level.”
Early in the season, the Knights were dealt a one-two punch when overage prospects Kotsopoulos and Alex Henry signed minor professional contracts and things only became more bleak once third-year defenceman demanded to be trade.
To make matters even worse, all-world winger Rico Fata was assigned by the Calgary Flames to their top affliiate in Saint John. The Flames took advantage of an obscure clause in the NHL-CHL agreement that allows players who have played four seasons in the CHL, even if they have junior eligibility remaining, to be assigned to the minors.
Reynolds, meanwhile, was eventually traded to the North Bay Centennials in exchange for the overager Gibson and defenceman Brett Angel.
On the heels on the Reynolds deal, the Knights sent second-year defenceman Steve Rawski to the Windsor Spitfires for overage rearguard Max Linnik (2nd round, St. Louis, 1998).
“We had some huge holes to fill in earlier, but the way things worked out, we have replaced Kotsopoulos with Gibson, Henry with Linnik, and Angel has taken over from Reynolds,” Agnew explained, matter-of-factly. “It might take a while for things to come together for us this season, but I have no doubt that they will.”