Kukla's Korner

The Malik Report

London’s Hunter-powered hockey powerhouse

Editorial note: Whoops, put this in the Wings blog instead of KK hockey. Sorry! From Toronto to Ann Arbor, Michigan, three OHL franchises have consistently vied for top prospects from Europe, Canadian midget hockey and the U.S. prospect pool which tends to either join the National Team Development program or head to NCAA schools.

The Windsor Spitfires, Plymouth Whalers and London Knights stand as three powerhouses, and regardless of Dale Hunter’s future with the Washington Capitals, the Toronto Star’s Kevin McGran reports that the Knights, who are playing in the OHL’s championship series, are in good hands with Dale’s brother Mark pulling double duty as the team’s coach and GM in his brother’s absence:

“Hockey in this town is so huge, you can’t believe it,” says Barbara Costello, marketing director for White Oaks Mall, one of the Knights’ chief sponsors. “Folks here look at the Hunter brothers like they’ve given them the greatest gift in the world. The John Labatt Centre is full all the time, all the games. The energy it creates is amazing.”

With a season-ticket base of 7,000 and a walk-up price of $18 for a regular-season game ($32 for the final), there are more than a handful of NHL teams in the U.S. Sunbelt that would love to have the connection to their communities that the Hunters and the Knights enjoy with London. The team has nine main “sponsors” and 92 “corporate partners” listed on its website.

The hold the Knights have on London’s hockey community is a lot like the hold the Maple Leafs have on their fan base, says Nazem Kadri, the Toronto Marlie who grew up in London and played for the Knights.

“Every single year they put a quality product on the ice that always seems to find a way to win. Fans can’t stay away. The fan support is huge,” says Kadri. “The pressures of playing in London . . . it’s a mini-scale Toronto.”

The Knights have a run of recent success that would make Leaf fans jealous. They won the Memorial Cup in 2005 and have been back to the OHL final on one other occasion (they lost). They have sent more No. 1 draft picks (five) to the NHL than any other team. And they haven’t had a losing season since 2001-02, when Dale took over behind the bench for the first time.

While the hockey/farming Sutter brothers get a lot of ink for their success in Alberta, the Hunters fly somewhat under the radar running a similar program in Ontario. But players want to play for the Hunters because they run such a successful organization. They teach using video from NHL games, so players can learn from the best. The Hunters know what it takes to make it in the NHL and they’re doing their best to pass that information along.

“They’ve helped me grow as a hockey player,” said Knights defenceman Jarred Tinordi, whose father Mark was a teammate of Dale’s in Washington. “They taught me the pro style of the game and helped prepared me for training camp. They tell us what to expect, what to do. When I got to training camp (with the Montreal Canadiens), it was just like they said.

Continued

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About The Malik Report

The Malik Report is a destination for all things Red Wings-related. I offer biased, perhaps unprofessional-at-times and verbose coverage of my favorite team, their prospects and developmental affiliates. I've joined the Kukla's Korner family with five years of blogging under my belt, and I hope you'll find almost everything you need to follow your Red Wings at a place where all opinions are created equal and we're all friends, talking about hockey and the team we love to follow.