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2013 Memorial Cup: London Knights grateful for breather

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Pittsburgh Penguins prospect Olli Maatta (OHL Images)

SASKATOON, Sask. — Being at the Memorial Cup means downtime isn't just a catchphrase, it's a philosophy.

There is a tendency for the tournament to slow down once the first-day rush passes; hey, the Canadian Hockey League might want to study playing a doubleheader on one of the weekend dates, just throwin' that out there. For the London Knights, though, have two days to spend in a quiet city that is not too small and not too big kind of agrees with their tired bodies. London had only a day and a half to go from winning the OHL title on Monday to flying to the Memorial Cup, although each player apparently got a row to himself on the plane.

"It's a good rest for us," checker Tyler Ferry said Saturday. "We went to seven games against Barrie. If you look at Edmonton last year, they went through the same thing [seven-game leading final] and we have the same schedule as them. Even if you look back to our Plymouth series, they're a big strong team and they like to hit. Lots of guys were banged up from that series and then the Barrie series on top of that kind of took its toll. These two days, it's important."

Ferry grinned — and defenceman Olli Määttä, a few feet away conducting interviews, looked over impishly — when asked what the Knights have planned to entertain themselves. Coach-GM Mark Hunter took the Knights sightseeing in Quebec City during the 2012 Cup in Shawinigan. In 2011 at Mississauga, Saint John Sea Dogs coaches Gerald Gallant and Mike Kelly took their charges to a Toronto Blue Jays game. Hockey players are people of action, so they need stimuli, but the Knights are also bone-weary.

"We're definitely going to watch the game tonight," Ferry added. "Go lounge in our rooms and go play cards tonight.

"Last year we had a bye to the final to so we had four days and went to Quebec City and saw the sights. Two days, you can kind of manage that. Four days, that's when it starts to get you, when you stay in the hotel that long."

"It's a nice city here, for the most part guys are resting and the coaches are going to take us to a nice steak dinner tonight," wing Seth Griffith added. "Always good to get a break."

Every junior team is worn down by the middle of May. Part of the reason the Memorial Cup, in any season, is such a scouting tool is because it offers a chance to see how someone can perform while being "rundown" — Griffith's term — mentally and physically.

London is the only one of the three league champions who played a seven-game series, but a team from Southern Ontario travels so much less than a Maritime QMJHL team or U.S.-based WHL team that there is no point of comparison. It's all about how teams manage with playing tired.

The Knights will be trying to get by while basically running only four defencemen — Pittsburgh Penguins prospects Scott Harrington and Olli Määttä, overage New York Rangers signing Tommy Hughes and 17-year-old draft prospect Nikita Zadorv.

"You got to play smart, it's hard week a half here," Määttä, 18, said. "Players can't overskate because you can't get tired."

London's showing in its 3-2 win Friday over Saskatoon was hardly overwhelming, but it hardly seemed to be in discomfort. Like the perennial contender who doesn't get excited at winning a first-round playoff series, they were also muted after their goal celebrations.

"You see in the Barrie series, we'd get excited, go up four goals, then it would just go to show how quick a lead can slip away," Griffith said. "It's good that we're keeping our emotions in check.

"Overall we held the lead in the third," Griffith added. "So that's a major plus right now."

Meantime, what to do for fun in Toon Town? Even the Blue Jays afternoon games come on at 11 a.m.

"They're breaking my little heart right now, but I still haven't lost faith," Ferry said.

Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to btnblog@yahoo.ca.

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