Ex-London Knights winners offer Memorial Cup advice: ‘Compete like hell’

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There’s no substitute for experience. And ahead of Sunday night’s Memorial Cup championship game, LFP reporter Jonathan Juha spoke with three former London Knights players who won the national junior hockey championship in the green-and-gold and asked them: What’s your advice for this season’s team ahead of the one-game final?

Adam Dennis

Former London Knights goaltender Adam Dennis still regards his 2005 Memorial Cup championship as one of the most important highlights of his hockey career. He says he’s certain the 2024 players also know the magnitude of what they can achieve Sunday night against Saginaw.

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“I think it’s massive,” he said, referring to what it means to young players to win the Memorial Cup. “It’s a trophy you only have a limited number of years to win, so if you have the opportunity to go, it is a great experience, but to win it, for me personally . . . it’s something that will stay with me for the rest of my life.”

Now an executive himself, Dennis, the GM of the North Bay Battalion, said for aspiring players hoping to make it to the National Hockey League, winning the trophy represents a unique opportunity to get noticed and prove what their mettle.

“Teams at the next level, they want winners,” he said. “They want players that have been in pressure situations, and when you have that on your resume, it’s something that certainly helps you down the line.”

His advice for the current knights? Stay in the moment and trust the process.

“When you get to this kind of tournament, there’s a lot of noise going on around, and it’s easy to get lost in the distractions but if you stick to what got you here, I think that’s what’s important,” Dennis said.

Danny Syvret

As captain of the 2005 team that won it all, Syvret had the privilege of lifting the Memorial Cup trophy first. It’s a moment that lives on in his mind.

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Now 38 years old, he still remembers vividly the last few minutes of the game they won 4-0 against the Rimouski Oceanic at Budweiser Gardens, then the John Labatt Centre, and what he felt when he finally lifted the trophy.

Danny Syvret
Danny Syvret hoists the Memorial Cup at a parade on May 31, 2005.

“The excitement sort of turns into more realistic excitement in the last couple minutes, especially when you are up 4-0, and you’re just watching the clock tick off,” Syvret said.

“The trophy is probably only 30 pounds, but it feels like it’s the heaviest thing on Earth until you can actually touch it. It takes a whole team and an organization of people to lift this thing, but when you get the chance to put your hands on it, you’re completely weightless.”

Syvret went on to win world junior gold and was named the CHL’s top defenceman before turning pro upon being drafted by the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers at age 20. Now coaching minor hockey in London, he advised the current Knights to treat Sunday’s game just like they have any other so far during this successful season.

“I think they’ve gotten this far doing what they’ve done, and although it’s the biggest game of their life so far, and for some it’ll be the biggest game of their careers, you still have to play it like it’s a regular game,” he said.

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“You can’t be tense and uptight and unable to make plays or decisions or be afraid to make mistakes.

“I think they realize they’re a good team, and if they play their game, and stay disciplined and compete like hell, then good things will probably happen for them.”

Owen MacDonald

Unlike the 2005 team, the 2016 London Knights Memorial Cup champions had to face some adversity before coming out on top.

Despite getting ahead in the second period, the Knights were down 2-1 with a little more than four minutes to play in the third period of the winner-take-all final against the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. The Knights eventually would tie the game and win it in overtime.

MacDonald the team’s closeness and willingness to trust each other was the difference in that championship game. It’s what he hopes London Knights players remember if they find themselves in the same position.

“Stay relaxed. Stay calm. And don’t let the pressure get to you,” said the former centre for the team. “And then, obviously, if you’re playing with the lead, play with the lead. Don’t relax and sit back. Make sure you attack.”

MacDonald said the current roster also benefits from playing for an organization with a long track of recent success. Relying on what they have learned could help the team gain the edge.

“I’m sure (London Knights coach) Dale (Hunter) has the guys in the right mindset going into that game,” he said. “A lot of the staff have gone through this many times, so listen to them. They have the best advice possible.”

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