Knights trades pay off, with more dividends to come

KITCHENER – A year ago, the Knights traded away their four best scoring forwards.

Two of the players they received in return – Nathan Dunkley from Kingston and Connor McMichael from Hamilton – have connected for a combined 47 of London’s 182 goals so far this season.

That’s 26 per cent of the club’s offensive output to date.

McMichael had a pair Saturday against Ottawa and Dunkley pulled off the double in a four-goal second period to dump the Rangers 5-2 before 7,003 Sunday afternoon at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium.

The best news?

The two weapons will be here for years to come.

“We gave up good players (back then),” London coach Dale Hunter said. “The kids came here, trained hard and were ready to play. All those goals stabilize your team and they’re playing well. It really helps a lot. We made those trades to help for the future because we lost (Victor) Mete and (Jesper) Bratt. If they were here, we likely would have went for it again.

“This way, we had to re-adjust and that’s what we did.”

It’s been a stunning success.

“Things are clicking,” said Dunkley, who joined McMichael as the first two Knights here from season’s start with 20 goals. “We’re scoring a lot and hopefully, we keep cashing in.”

This was a total trap game for London after running the OHL gauntlet against Sault Ste. Marie, Guelph Saginaw and Ottawa. It didn’t look good after Kitchener scored on an early power play and a McMicheal tally was washed away by video review for an offside.

But the Knights ramped up their physical play at the start of the second and that swung the momentum. That’s not easy to do at the tail end of a busy week.

Rookie Antonio Stranges scored for the first time since Dec. 7 and Billy Moskal’s shorthanded breakaway goal stood up as the winner.

“We settled in and started putting our chances away,” Moskal, the 18-year-old centre said. “Dale tends to put our line (with Cole Tymkin and Alex Turko) out at the start of periods a lot. We’re there to set a pace. We’re kind of a hard-working gritty line so that’s what we do. The Ottawa and Saginaw wins were big for us. Dale puts a lot of trust in us against top players and we’re up to that challenge and accept that role.”

RISING HIGH: The Knights won three times in 2 1/2 days after falling to Guelph last Tuesday. They are now one point behind Ottawa, who were smashed by the Storm, for first overall and still have three games in hand on the 67’s.

“We like to be top of the West,” Dunkley said. “East and West, it’s not a huge deal, but it is an accomplishment to be top of the league. It’s just any time you can sweep a weekend like this, you have to be pretty satisfied with what happened.”

They put the Storm and Soo losses on home ice in the rear-view mirror quickly and minimized their impact on the standings.

“Everyone’s a little sore, banged-up and tired,” Moskal said, “but we bought in well and got a few wins.”

They knocked off a few giants along the way, too.

“Saginaw and Ottawa are going for it” Dale Hunter said. “The kids were up to the challenge. They played hard and well defensively.”

BLUE-SHIRT BLUES: London and Kitchener are traditional rivals, but the Knights have had their way with the Rangers so far this season. That’s four straight victories against their division foes. In the big picture, it hasn’t been that close either.

The Knights have outscored Kitchener 19-5 in those games with two still to come. They haven’t allowed the Rangers, who beat Guelph Friday, more than two goals in any meeting.

“We were pretty ready to go for this one,” Dunkley said. “We knew, after bad luck in the first period, we needed to get it going and we did. Our mindset was for our D to get quick shots at the net. We wanted our forwards crashing and looking for rebounds.”

Both of Dunkley’s goals were rebounds while he was stationed in front.

RAAY-ZOR SHARP: London goaltender Joseph Raaymakers’ best friend will be a cold tub today. He made all four starts this week and capped the busy time with a third-period assist on Liam Foudy’s insurance goal.

“Those three-in-threes aren’t easy,” Dale Hunter said. “He stood tall for us back there.”

His Kitchener assignment was out of necessity. Jordan Kooy slipped on some water at Budweiser Gardens while kicking around the soccer ball Saturday.

Justin Richer, the St. Marys Lincolns keeper, served as backup Sunday. The Knights don’t know if Kooy will be available for the start of London northern swing starting Thursday in Barrie.

“It’s a tweak and we have to be careful,” Hunter said. “In two days, we’ll know more.”

RINKSIDE: London provided one of its first updates on the condition of injured veteran forward Alex Formenton, who was hurt during Canadian world junior tryouts. The Knights are looking at the start of February as a target for his return. “He’s starting to skate right now,” Hunter said. . . . Kevin Hancock has come as advertised from Owen Sound. The 20-year-old has three goals and eight points in five games since joining the Knights, including drawing top duty on both the power play and penalty kill. He’s out for most critical situations, too . . . London was credited with 40 of 66 faceoff wins against Kitchener . . . The Knights dressed seven defencemen, which gave brothers Joey and Gerard Keane a chance to be in the lineup again together . . . The Knights fans’ loud and passionate reaction to what they felt was a bad call in Friday’s win over Saginaw made a major impression on the the team. The players all felt like the Bud faithful had their backs. If you watched the bench while that was happening, the London coaches didn’t utter a word to the officials. “It worked out better than us yelling and getting the refs all mad at us,” Knights assistant coach Rick Steadman said.

rpyette@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/RyanatLFPress

GAME GLANCE

Knights 5, Rangers 2

London goals: Nathan Dunkley (2), Antonio Stranges, Billy Moskal, Liam Foudy

Kitchener goals: Jonathan Yantsis Riley Damiani

Next: The Knights are in Barrie Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

Sunday

At Kitchener Memorial Auditorium

Knights 5, Rangers 2

3 Stars

1. Nathan Dunkley, Knights.

2. Billy Moskal, Knights.

3. Donovan Sebrango, Rangers.

First period

1. Kitchener, Yantsis 30 (Meireles, Hugg) 5:03 (pp)

On the doorstep.

Penalties – Turko, Ldn (slashing) 3:46, Dunkley, Ldn (tripping) 6:19, Meireles, Kit (tripping) 7:28, Lochead, Ldn, (slashing) Cameron, Kit (roughing) 9:25, Vukojevic, Kit (tripping) 11:40.

Second period

2. London, Stranges 8 (Hancock, Guskov) 3:22

Tough-angled shot.

3. London, Dunkley 19 (Bouchard) 5:59

Banged in rebound.

4. London, Moskal 9 (unassisted) 7:10 (sh)

Roofed it on breakaway.

5. Kitchener, Damiani 16 (Hugg, Vukojevic) 11:57

Fished out a puck in close.

6. London, Dunkley 20 (Hancock, Foudy) 14:42

In the right spot.

Penalties – Cotter, Ldn (hooking) 6:39, Coome Ldn, Yantsis, Kit (roughing) 16:22.

Third period

7. London, Foudy 18 (J. Keane, Raaymakers) 10:05 (pp)

Long, accurate shot

Penalties – Vukojevic, Kit (tripping) 2:08, Petizian, Kit (high-sticking) 8:28, Bouchard, Ldn (hooking) 12:11, Dunkley, Ldn (hooking) 14:51.

Shots on goal by

London 14 19 6—39

Kitchener 5 12 10—27

Goal: London: Raaymakers (W, 19-6). Kitchener: Pfeil (L, 5-7).

Power plays (goals-chances): Ldn 1-4. Kit 1-5.

Referees – Scott Ferguson Drew Jackson. Linesmen – Kevin Hastings, Brady Fagan.

Attendance: 7,003.

***

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