Strangely, the Knights won both of their titles on the exact same day: May 29. Their third appearance in a Memorial Cup final was on May 27 in Shawinigan, Que.
This week, the ongoing series, London Knights: Back in time, will focus on stories from before, during and after those games.
May 28 – Adam Dennis gets the start
May 29 – Championship Day
It was over so quickly.
One minute the puck was being sent around the boards to the right side of the London Knights zone in an attempt to clear it and the next it was in the Knight net and the Shawinigan Cataractes and their fans were jumping around in celebration.
After 17 minutes and 51 seconds of overtime on May 27, 2012 the scoreboard in the Memorial Cup final read Shawinigan 2 and London 1.
Instantly the feeling of just how close London had come to completing an unbelievable and improbable run to a championship began to set in.
To be denied like they were is a cruelty that is tough to match outside the sports world.
At that point in the season the Knights had played 96 games. Go back to the 50, 60 or 70 game mark and you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who expected London to be one of the last two major junior teams standing. But there they were.
Their young core of future National Hockey Leaguers had been led to an Ontario Hockey League title by veterans like Austin Watson and Greg McKegg and the entire club had been anchored by the OHL’s Most Outstanding Player and Goaltender of the Year Michael Houser.
Houser was quickly consoled by teammates in his crease. Other members of the Knights did their best to control other teammates as they watched a celebration they were hoping was going to be theirs.
For the players there was the blur of the handshakes with the Cataractes players and then exiting the ice surface to their dressing room which had been an equipment manager’s dream, located just steps from the Knights bench but was now the nightmare of being those same steps away from the trophy presentation.
After they showered the players quickly went to a mixing zone located outside the Centre Bionest in Shawinigan, PQ to be with their families and billets and friends who had made the trip to watch the game. The mixing zone was a blend of tents and open air on what continued to be a heatwave throughout the Mauricie Area of the province of Quebec.
It was an uncomfortably stuffy night and everyone inside that mixing zone seemed trapped in an ongoing chain of making eye contact with someone who was hurting and not having anything to say to make the hurt go away.
London Knights: Back in time — May 12
Dick Hunter, the father of Knights owners Mark and Dale Hunter, was off to the side of that area.
The patriarch of the Hunter family leaned against a metal railing and gazed at the outside wall of the arena.
“You know,” he said quietly, “I used to take losses like this really hard. Then I lost my wife.”
Leave it to the wisest person on the trip to put things into perspective.
Bit by bit, the awkward looks began to feel more comfortable and bits of chatter began.
Eventually players began to file toward the team bus. Horns honked around them as Cataractes fans left the arena parking lot to continue the party in other parts of Shawinigan.
Future NHL captain Bo Horvat, just 16 years old, boarded the bus and took the time to shake the hands of every team staff member and thank them for the part they had played during his rookie season.
More players walked to their seats and eventually the Knights made the trip back to their hotel in Trois-Rivieres, PQ.
London Knights: Back in time — May 13
The ride to the final game had been completely silent. The only sounds outside of the movement of the bus came from the music emanating from headphones worn by players who were focussed on the task ahead of them.
Now there may not have been laughter but players were beginning to relax. Maybe not quite able to soak in all of what they had accomplished yet but they were at least in the moment of how far they had gone.
Back at the hotel, pizza was ordered. Players even cracked a few smiles. It wasn’t a late night by any means. There was a flight home to catch in the morning.
And little did the players know at that point but the welcome they would receive that included a water cannon salute, a parade and a sea of fans at a rally at the Covent Garden Market.
It is something that players from the 2011-12 team still remember fondly today.
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