Playing on-the-edge hockey and wanting to get under your opponent’s skin is one thing. It’s another thing entirely to cross that line, and the London Knights have dancing all over it.
Multiple unrelated incidents have led to an entire checking line being out of the London lineup recently, and that’s only part of the picture. Over the past couple of weeks, London has seen suspensions given out for incidents including:
A line brawl against the Sarnia Sting on January 24 that resulted in 12 games worth of suspension for London.
- Two games went to coach Dale Hunter due to players leaving the bench with the intent to fight on their next shift.
- Two games went to Aaron Berisha for a second fight during the stoppage caused by the line brawl.
- Four games each went to Chad Heffernan and Owen MacDonald for their parts in prolonging the line brawl. MacDonald was also initially assessed a match penalty for intent to injure Sting player Travis Konecny that was later rescinded by the league.
- A 12-game suspension for C.J. Yakimowicz after he was assessed a match penalty for intent to injure Mads Eller in the January 30 game against the Windsor Spitfires. The OHL’s main point of concern with this incident was Yakimowicz removing Eller’s helmet and then continuing to engage.
- A game misconduct for Matthew Tkachuk due to an aggressive slashing penalty on Niagara Ice Dogs forward Jordan Maletta.
While Tkachuk’s penalty was reviewable by the OHL, and many believed it would result in a suspension for the 2016 draft-eligible forward, it was rescinded instead. Coincidentally, it was waved off in time for Tkachuk to play in London’s next game.
That game was the following night against Owen Sound. By the time it was over, 2016 draft-eligible forward Max Jones had taken four penalties. Jones was recently called out for his “shenanigans” by Kitchener Rangers play-by-play man Mike Farwell. Farwell also called Jones a “poster boy of London privilege”.
Sarnia Sting coach Derian Hatcher was blunt in his assessment of Jones, alleging repeated incidents of slew-footing by Jones against Sting players, including one that Hatcher claimed was the cause of the Sting-Knights line brawl.
Even London Free Press writer Ryan Pyette has called Jones the most polarizing Knights forward since Zac Rinaldo.
Whether or not this assessment of Jones is accurate is beside the point.
It’s part of the larger perception around the league that the Knights, and this year’s lineup in particular, can do no wrong, and even when they do, at most they will get a slap on the wrist.
This so-called privilege starts at the top. Farwell called Dale Hunter “the most powerful man in junior hockey” and he’s not alone in that opinion. Responses to his tweets about Hunter and the OHL’s “soft touch” show that many fans feel the same way.
London is often seen as above the law, getting away with things other teams might not, and receiving lighter sentences when they actually are punished.
Assuming this privilege exists, is London’s play lately even worse than it has looked? If they’re playing recklessly, and these suspensions are the OHL letting them off easy, it stands to reason that their play has been even more dangerous than has been immediately apparent.
The longer this is allowed to go on, the more likely it is to become a habit. This is a problem, and one that Hunter, and the rest of the London coaching staff, needs to address, because eventually the league won’t be able to cut them that kind of slack.
With the spectre of the playoffs looming, and multiple top prospects in the lineup, the London Knights need to get their act together — and quickly.