Wheat Kings take on Huskies Saturday night
The London Knights scored four goals over three games in their last trip to the MasterCard Memorial Cup in 2014.
On Friday, they exploded for six in one game, defeating the host Red Deer Rebels behind standout efforts from Mitch Marner and Christian Dvorak.
Marner’s five points were one shy of tying a MasterCard Memorial Cup record. The Toronto Maple Leafs prospect had a pair of goals and three assists while Dvorak had two goals and two helpers in a 6-2 Knights victory.
“I thought we weathered the storm out of the gate,” said Marner post-game. “The first 10 minutes weren’t the way we wanted to play but after that I think we really got into the game.”
The trio of Marner, Dvorak and Tkachuk connected for a combined 10 points on the night, further solidifying the reputation of what many consider to be the most dominant line in the Canadian Hockey League this season.
“It’s been pretty special,” Marner added. “All three of us work together really well and playing with those two makes it fun every night, but we can’t stop now. It’s only the first game and we need to start getting focused for Brandon.”
The Rebels came out of the gate with physicality as Adam Musil and Evan Polei threw the body early and often.
“Yeah, they’re a physical team and we had to get adjusted to that quickly,” said Dvorak. “I think the early power play goal got us all going and we took off from there.”
After the Knights managed just two shots on goal in the opening 10 minutes and got a fortunate crossbar on an Adam Helewka scoring opportunity, they got things going on their man advantage that operated at a 29.1% clip throughout the season.
45-goal man Aaron Berisha ripped a quick release inside the far post past Rylan Toth at 13:51. Assists on the goal went to Tkachuk and Marner as London’s offence went to work.
London struck again less than two minutes later as rapid puck movement in the offensive zone resulted in Dvorak getting time and space to beat Toth under the arm from the high slot at 16:39.
The Knights rounded out the first period scoring on Dvorak’s second with Marner and Olli Juolevi drawing assists once again.
London continued to click in the second as Marner and company got back to work in the second half of the frame.
Marner took a feed from Dvorak before beating Toth over the shoulder as he came in off the top of the circle, giving the Knights a 4-0 lead.
Goals from Victor Mete and Marner’s second of the night pushed London ahead 6-0, silencing what had previously been a rambunctious ENMAX Centrium.
Rebels captain Luke Philp would give the Red Deer faithful something to cheer about in the dying seconds of the second period, tipping a Colton Bobyk point blast past Parsons in the London crease to narrow the gap to five headed into the third.
The Rebels inched closer on the man advantage at the midway point of the third. Helewka stepped into a one-timer from the top of the circle on a feed from Haydn Fleury to beat Parsons across the crease at 9:35.
Trailing 6-2, the Rebels wouldn’t be able to gain any further ground as a pair of desperation saves from Tyler Parsons helped the Knights close out a big win to open the 98th MasterCard Memorial Cup.
The London win marks the eighth time in the last 10 years that the visitors have opened the MasterCard Memorial Cup with a win over the host club.
London outshot Red Deer 36-32 as the Rebels finished strong, outshooting the Knights 15-8 in the final 20 minutes.
The two clubs have a day off on Saturday before Red Deer returns to action against the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies on Sunday while London is off until Monday when they take on the WHL champion Brandon Wheat Kings.
The WHL Champion Brandon Wheat Kings will clash with the QMJHL Champion Rouyn-Niranda Huskies for Game 2 of the 2016 MasterCard Memorial Cup on Saturday night. Puck drop is set for 5:00pm MT.