London Knights: Back in time — May 11 (Part 2)

This is part of an ongoing series in which we look back on amazing moments in London Knights history. Each day, we’ll bring you a new memory leading up to the anniversaries of the team’s Memorial Cup championships in 2005 and 2016.

May 11 has proven a lucky day twice in the history of the London Knights.

In 2012, they won the franchise’s second Ontario Hockey League title.

In 2016, the Knights became OHL champions for the fourth time.

The two series had a whole lot more in common than just the same end date.

Both featured the same opponent in the Niagara IceDogs and both began with the feeling that Niagara had the better chance to win.

The IceDogs had been making everyone they faced “see red” in 2016. They had been wearing their alternate red uniforms and steamrolled Ottawa, Kingston and Barrie on their way to the finals, losing just one game in the three series combined.

Niagara hit London on the high of a 10-game winning streak determined to do what was not done by the ‘Dogs team of five years earlier. That team had been upset by London in the 2012 OHL Championship series.

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London had been far more methodical on their map back to the championship series.

A first-round meeting with Owen Sound gave the Knights an education in what could happen if they let their guard down at all in the playoffs. London fell behind two games to one against the Attack and then had to battle the Bayshore bounce to capture the series in six and avoid a deciding winner-take-all scenario two nights later.

London never forgot those lessons they learned against Owen Sound.

They took nothing for granted in beating Kitchener and then ousted the OHL regular season champs from Erie. Both the Rangers and the Otters were surgically swept away in four-game sweeps over the remainder of the month of April.

That brought the Knights and IceDogs to their championship rematch from 2012.

London stuffed the Niagara winning streak in games 1 and 2 with a combined 10-2 score.

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Still, the IceDogs found their stride early in Game 3 after Matthew Tkachuk put the Knights ahead just 32 seconds after the opening faceoff.

Niagara scored four straight goals and led 4-1 late in the first period. The IceDogs fans were seeing red again, and their team seemed ready to get back into the series.

The London bench listened to the noise of the Meridian Centre and watched the Niagara players as they jumped around in celebration but didn’t seem fazed.

Cliff Pu scored short-handed in the final minute of the opening period, and the Knights were down two.

The IceDogs scored to make it 5-2 early in the second period, but again, the London bench showed little concern. They had proven to themselves that patience was key in the post-season. The Knights had seen evidence from their opening series that things are not going to go your way all of the time. They simply waited for their chances in the third period, and those chances came.

Co-captain Christian Dvorak scored. Then London’s other co-captain, Mitch Marner, set up Victor Mete, and the game was tied and headed to overtime.

The teams were either going to find themselves in a brand-new series with the home side holding serve, or the Knights were going to be a game away from winning it all in the OHL.

Less than three minutes in, the line of J.J. Piccinich, C.J. Yakimowicz and Owen MacDonald provided the answer as MacDonald willed a chance in tight through goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic to give London a wild 6-5 victory and a 3-0 series lead.

Game 4 took place on May 11 and will forever be remembered for two things during the action and one remarkable moment immediately afterwards.

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The first was the one goal scored that night. It was made possible by the biggest unsung hero London had that year. Defenceman Jacob Graves had been acquired from Oshawa, where he won a Memorial Cup with the Generals a year before and, much like Austin Watson in 2012, Graves knew what it was going to take to find success.

He got to a puck on a nice pinch into the right corner late in the first period and then sent a pass to Marner, who magically one-touched a feed to Dvorak. The future Arizona Coyote scored what would hold up as the championship-winning goal.

With London still hanging on at 1-0 late in the third period, Tyler Parsons keyed the game’s second memorable moment when he came across the crease and made a massive save to prevent overtime for a second game and preserve the fourth franchise title for the Knights.

As time ticked away, the celebration began inside the London blue line, but it culminated after things had calmed down and the J. Ross Robertson Cup was brought onto the ice.

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Jacob Buch had been drafted by the Knights in the fifth round of the 2014 OHL Priority Selection, but a cancer diagnosis robbed him of a chance to play with the team. At the urging of the players, Buch was invited to be a special guest at the May 11 game, and the first pass of the championship trophy by co-captains Marner and Dvorak went right into Buch’s hands.

Buch went on to beat cancer, finish his playing career in the OJHL and the GOJHL, where he is now an assistant coach in Caledonia, and the Knights went on to beat every team they faced at the Memorial Cup tournament on their way to becoming ultimate champions in 2016.

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