Every Friday, it’s turning into a fireworks display at Budweiser Gardens.
The Knights put together another flashy offensive performance, scoring six times in the first two periods en route to a 15th consecutive victory, 8-1 over the Kingston Frontenacs before 9,036.
London has scored at least seven goals on four straight Fridays, their traditional and best-attended home night.
The OHL’s Western Conference leaders beat Peterborough 7-3 on Nov. 16, hammered Owen Sound 7-2 Nov. 23, buried Erie 8-1 and now blitzed the youthful Frontenacs, the first victim in this current win binge back on Oct. 27 in K-town.
Swedish d-man Adam Boqvist’s eighth tally chased Kingston starter Brendan Bonello from the net with 5:40 left in the second period. That capped three goals in a furious 1:34 span, which turned a three-goal game into blowout.
The Knights have one more Friday home game before the midseason holiday break. It’s next week against fellow contenders Niagara. They won’t have three Canadian world junior hopefuls – captain Evan Bouchard, Alex Formenton, Liam Foudy – and likely Boqvist either.
If they still find a way score seven times in that one, it will truly be eye-popping.
CHASING OTTAWA: The Western Conference-leading Knights got some help from an unlikely source.
The Quebec league’s Gatineau Olympiques knocked off the Ottawa 67’s 2-1 in Hull during the first of their interleague home-and-home series that counts in the regular standings. That marks Ottawa’s first regulation loss in 24 games, so the Knights take over as the club with the longest current stretch of success (18 straight wins without a 60-minute defeat).
Western Conference-leading London also pulled within four points of the East front-runners for first place overall. The Knights still have three games in hand.
SHOWING THE BOSSES: It’s hard to nitpick a team that was perfect in the month of November.
That’s why, even though the Knights have been keeping an eye on the veteran talent becoming available across the OHL, they aren’t in any hurry to do anything game-changing at the moment.
Many believe they need a top-line scorer to get to the Memorial Cup in Halifax in May, but it’s hard to make that argument when the current roster consistently puts up seven goals a game in recent weeks.
“We have good chemistry here,” London GM Mark Hunter said. “I like how our team plays. They push and they want to win. I have time for them. We’ll see (what happens). Everybody comes and put their work boots on every night and you have to come and be ready to play. They have been and hopefully, we can continue that and do what we have to win more games here.”
The Knights have the best goals-against total in the league. But the best teams in junior hockey are usually the ones who can score five goals when they need it. You don’t feel comfortable if you win a bunch of nailbiters, including overtime and shootout contests.
“I like our goal differential,” Hunter said. “We’ve got enough goals (in the lineup). In the National Hockey League, a lot of guys look at goal differential and ours (in the plus-50 range) means we have games where we’re really pushing.”
MAKING THEIR MARK: Nathan Dunkley believes the Knights desire to win was built in from their first-round sweep at the hands of Owen Sound last spring.
“We were bitter from last year and we knew we had good core guys on the team,” said the 18-year-old OHL first-rounder, who was acquired from Kingston in the Cliff Pu deal. “Every year you come in with the attitude you want to be a winning hockey club but there is something special here and we know we’re going to make a really good push.
“A lot of guys can play a bunch of different roles on this team and winning only adds to that confidence in what we’re doing.”
The Frontenacs don’t look an awful lot like the club that Dunkley was with at the start of last season, but there are enough familiar faces that he still enjoys the opportunity.
“It’s always cool to play against your buddies,” he said. “It’s a good challenge and it’s feels extra good when you win. You play to win and that’s the most exciting part.”
HOME ADVANTAGE: Alex Formenton was in atom hockey when Sidney Crosby scored the golden goal at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. So the returning world junior forward is obviously excited for the chance to wear the Canadian jersey on the same ice surface where that happened during the tournament later this month.
“It should be a lot of fun and hopefully we can come out with the same gold-medal result there,” the Knights star said. “We had good support in Buffalo last year and I think it will be great from our fans there.
“I’m excited to play in front of them.”
HOLDING THE FORT: Even though the Knights beat Erie 8-1 a week ago, Joseph Raaymakers made a number of spectacular saves in that game. There is a lesson for many young goaltenders in his performance there. Don’t play to the score.
“It’s something I learned over the years,” the over-ager said. “If you’re up five or six goals or down the same, you have to compete and battle for your team and give them the next save. Really, you just go and play and don’t about anything more than that. Even if a bad goal goes in, we’re there to support each other.”
Raaymakers played on some quality teams in Sault Ste. Marie before asking to be traded last year. He believes this team has a depth to it you don’t often find on many junior rosters.
“It’s nice to have highly skilled players on forward and D,” he said. “It’s kind of nice to be set up that way and we believe in the Hunters. They’re very good at their jobs and we trust they’re going to work their hardest to give us the best chance to win every game.”
GOALIE TALLY: Western goaltender Lucas Peressini scored into an empty net to help the Mustangs beat Windsor 4-1 last Saturday. It’s timely, since the 23-year-old’s former OHL team, the Fronts, were visiting Londonon Friday. Peressini played four years in Kingston and was named the league’s top goaltender in 2015. He’s in his third season with Western.
Knights 8, Frontenacs 1
London goals: Connor McMichael (2), Liam Foudy, Antonio Stranges, Dalton Duhart, Nathan Dunkley, Adam Boqvist, Josh Nelson
Kingston goal: Lucas Rowe
Next: The Knights head to Owen Sound Saturday for a 7:30 p.m. start
Knights 8, Frontenacs 1
1. Connor McMichael, Knights
2. Dalton Duhart, Knights
3. Alex Turko, Knights
1. London, McMichael 18 (Bouchard) 10:57
2. London, Foudy 14 (Turko, Boqvist) 19:04
Penalties – Hough, Kgn (hooking) 14:04, Cotter, Ldn (goalie interference) 15:26.
3. London, Stranges 7 (Duhart) 4:40
4. London, Duhart 6 (McMichael, Turko) 12:46
5. London, Dunkley 9 (Tymkin, Timms) 13:53
6. London, Boqvist 8 (Formenton, Bouchard) 14:20
Penalties – Dunkley, Ldn (goalie interference) 0:50, Derungs, Kgn (hooking) 6:48.
7. London, Nelson 7 (unassisted) 9:48
8. London, McMichael 19 (Stranges) 11:14
9. Kingston, Rowe 3 (Aguanno, Martin) 11:28
Penalties – None.
Shots on goal by
Kingston 4 5 15—24
London 13 11 10—34
Goal (shots-saves): Kingston: Bonello (23-17) (L, 3-19), Dugas (11-9, 14:20 of second period); London: Raaymakers (W, 12-5)
Power plays (goals-chances): Kgn 0-2; Ldn 0-2
Referees – Len Wood, Chris Ferreira; Linesmen – Ryan Card, Kevin Hastings
Attendance: 9,036 (9,036)
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