Start time: The Knights begin a stretch of 13 games in 24 days with fans in the stands

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Three postponed games and a canceled trip to Michigan last week served as a reminder for the London Knights that they are yet to leave the pandemic forest.

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But having lottery-selected fans in the Budweiser Gardens stands on Friday and Saturday will be a positive sign of normalcy, even if it’s still only 1/18th the capacity of the downtown arena.

“It will be nice to have people in the building again,” Knights goalie Brett Brochu said.

“It’s different to see people in the (United) States. You have 110,000. . . in a football stadium and we can only get 500. Not much to say about that, it’s out of our control, but it will be fun to have some people there.”

It’s not 9,000 strong, but it’s a huge step up from the small gathering of staff, media, NHL scouts and mascot Scorezy at recent games. There will actually be an audible reaction when something happens on the ice.

“The players know this is a moving world and things can change from hour to hour,” said London assistant coach Rick Steadman.

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They want the fans back in a bad way. When our arena gets going, it’s loud. Whenever it opens, it opens, but they’re more focused on getting the right product on the ice before anything else.”

The Knights have played the fewest games (32) in the Ontario Hockey League, but that’s a matter of perspective. For example, if they played in the Quebec League, that would count towards the top of the table.

All three Canadian Hockey League regional circuits must end around the same time if they are to host a legitimate Memorial Cup in Saint John, NB this summer. However, they are largely forgotten in the weekly top 10 rankings.

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“We don’t really look at that stuff,” Brochu said. “We just know what our team has to do to win and we know we have to keep getting better. If our end goal is to win a few trophies and not just have fun, that’s a long way off and there’s still a lot of hard work to do.”

Starting Friday against Windsor, the Knights face 13 games in 24 days. Once again they have some rust to scrape against teams lucky enough to play regularly.

“It sucks. There are no other words to describe it,” said Brochu, who only played five games in January. “I’m looking forward to getting into a hockey rhythm because it’s hard not to be in for a long time games to come.

“I usually approach training like a game, so I’m fine and it’s not like I’m lost when it comes to playing. I can get right back in and we want to win this weekend,” he added.

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“We’ve had breaks and postponements, but that’s the way it is this year. That’s better than playing zero games.”

On a personal level, the best news was that the International Ice Hockey Federation unveiled plans for a fresh start for the juniors after the Beijing Olympics ended. The target being discussed is August and Brochu will sign up again with Canada if the schedule fits.

“I was pretty happy to see and hear that,” said the 19-year-old. “Obviously it’s far from set in stone, but it’s really nice that they’re still talking about having some sort of opportunity to get started. It’s still a dream of mine and it still doesn’t feel real that World Juniors (2022) has been cancelled.

“I don’t know what they’re going to decide (about the format). I don’t care,” he added. “If we can play, then we play.”

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Until then, hopefully in front of full houses.

AROUND THE ICE Rink : Ex-Knight Andrew Perrott has continued his pace of points-a-game on the Spitfires blue line since coming from Owen Sound. The overager’s 30 points is already a career high. . . Knights defenseman Ethan MacKinnon has returned to full-time training and should see more action this season. The 18-year-old has been out since his high hit on December 7th in Kitchener. “We make sure everything’s okay before we push him into a game,” Steadman said. . . . London’s second-round player Oliver Bonk was due to play his first game in two months on Wednesday after breaking a bone at the World U17 Challenge. But the St. Thomas Stars’ tilt at LaSalle was shifted by the weather, leaving the defenseman looking ahead to Friday’s home game against Komoka. . . A compact schedule will cost Brochu a few starts. In the fall, it looked like he would be in the 60-game range. Well, that’s doubtful. “We’ll see,” he said. “If it were up to me, I would love to play every game. But it’s not and I understand every decision (the coaches) and trust them. I’m really competitive and often it’s the right choice. I will be ready every time to give our team a win.” . . . Former Knight Matt Onuska went into Thursday’s game against Guelph with Windsor with a 2-1 record, 3.10 goals against average and 0.870 percent saves. The London start will likely go to Xavier Medina but Onuska has already made an impression. “I’m very happy for him,” said Brochu. “He’s getting a bit of ice age at Windsor. . . He made some nice stops and was in the plays of the week which was nice to see.” . . . The first sign that the Knights have been using their free time wisely will be an intensified power play. He is currently ninth in the league. “We always have to get to the same side and go through the games for multiple chances,” Steadman said. “We can’t be one and done. You delete it, that’s 20 seconds off the clock. You’re stuck in their zone and once the penalty is tired it’s easier to score with them.” . . . Ex-Knight John Carlson’s assist against Pittsburgh on Tuesday earned him 556 points with the Capitals and tied him with his old junior coach Dale Hunter in sixth place on the team’s all-time list. Hunter made it in 872 games with Washington, while Carlson made it in 852. “That’s pretty awesome,” Steadman said. “John had a good power play there and played well for a long time. No better guy to pass (Dale).” . . . The Knights have not generally lost this season when leading after a third (14-0-1). In the lead after two (13:0) they are unbeatable. So a quick start after that long two-week break is a must. “Windsor have a good offense and they’re firing on all cylinders,” Steadman said. “If you’re not careful, you’ll quickly find yourself two goals behind. So just be ready when the puck falls and let’s play our games.”

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KNIGHT WATCH

Friday: against Windsor, 7 p.m. in the Budweiser Gardens. Windsor’s only win in four tries against London came with Brett Brochu and Luke Evangelista at World Junior Camp.

Saturday: vs. Kitchener, 4 p.m. at the Bud. The Knights have beaten the Rangers 22-7 in four games.

Sunday: at Owen Sound, 2pm London has won all six meetings but has not faced the attack since November 27th.

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