KITCHENER — Evan Bouchard and Alex Formenton started their OHL careers on a Memorial Cup championship roster.
“I want to be a leader on this team and I want to win something this year,” said Formenton, who scored an empty-netter in his Knights’ return to seal a 3-0 victory over the Rangers before 7,058 Sunday at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium. “I’m going to be working my hardest to get that done. I know the guys behind me will be working their hardest to help me out there.”
The victory vaulted London, who swept its 3-in-3 weekend, into a first-place tie with Guelph atop the Midwest Division. They expect to stay there now that their two star players are back from NHL stints.
The dynamite duo’s aspirations are well-defined since the plane rides from Ottawa and Edmonton. Help the Canadian world junior team win a second straight gold medal and get the Knights back to the Cup, this time in Halifax in the spring.
“It’s a big deal because you want to take the team somewhere,” said Bouchard, who scored the only goal London needed 6:35 into the first period. “We have a lot of potential and we want to do well. You want to be a reason it happens. I watched the games when I could (while with the Oilers) and I think we have a special team.”
The Knights have watched a number of their players over the years crack the pro ranks as teenagers. Some work out well. Others, not as much.
London holds to the theory that — save for generational talents like Connor McDavid — another year in junior is never a wasted opportunity.
“I think it’s the right thing,” Knights associate GM Rob Simpson said. “Both of them showed really well in Ottawa and Edmonton. There’s nothing wrong with being the best player in a league and taking your time with your development. They haven’t had that long (playoff) run yet. They’ve been a part, but this is their time to take a team and show they can lead.
“The guys we’ve had like Mitch Marner, Christian Dvorak and Matthew Tkachuk, they stepped in and have done well in the NHL right away. Look at how Robby Thomas took Hamilton to the Memorial Cup (last spring).
The only concern in the NHL is winning. Everything else is secondary. “People may say they don’t have anything more to prove here, but winning is part of the equation,” Simpson said. “The more you win, the better it develops you to be a professional.”
“I got pretty lucky,” the Knights overager goaltender said of his 30-save performance. “There were five or six posts in the game. That’s just the way it went. It was a good win.”
London continues to largely alternate starts between Raaymakers and Jordan Kooy, who won a shootout in Owen Sound the previous night.
Raaymakers didn’t even make the trip to the Bayshore Saturday. He stayed in London and took shots from Formenton, Bouchard and Blackhawks first rounder Adam Boqvist, who missed a fourth straight game with injury.
“I wasn’t really satisfied with the way I started the year,” the veteran netminder said. “I’m starting to settle my game and it’s a matter of keeping that consistency. It’s a big step to build off, but you can never be satisfied.”
Dale Hunter has been pleased with his efforts. “He’s been good,” the coach said. “He was away in (NHL) camp (with the Blue Jackets) and when they come back, it takes time to adjust. It’s the same for everyone.”
Raaymakers would play every single game if given the green light, but the Knights want to find crease time for both goalies at this point.
“(Kooy) is playing really well, he’s a great kid and works hard,” he said. “It’s good to have a guy like that working his butt off. They give us a pretty good idea of their (weekly) plan and we’re trying to do our best.”
There is friendly competition in the net, just like everywhere else in the lineup with the two big guns back.
“They raise the team’s work ethic,” Raaymakers said of Bouchard and Formenton’s presence. “Guys are ready to go off the hop. Everybody wants minutes and they want to elevate their game.”
MEMORABLE GOALS: It is rare for an OHL team to have one player in its lineup with an NHL goal to his credit, let alone a pair.
Formenton said the Senators still have the puck from his first tally this season and are getting it mounted on a plaque for him. “I think it will make a nice little gift,” he said, grinning.
The same goes for Bouchard, who scored his first goal against reigning Stanley Cup champ Braden Holtby. “It’s something I’ll never forget,” he said.
“Keep the same habits and take what I learned there and do it here,” he said. “I learned every day from the players and coaching staff. It was pretty special.”
AROUND THE RINK: Bouchard led all shooters with seven shots on goal. Partner Alec Regula had six . . . Hunter had no problem with the Rangers pulling the goalie again after Formenton’s empty-netter and down three to try to end Raaymakers’ shutout. Kitchener didn’t score Friday against Windsor, either. “I would do the same,” he said. “They’re trying to score. You get to practise your 6-on-5.” . . . London sophomore d-man Andrew Perrott sat out the first of a two-game suspension for being the aggressor in a fight in Owen Sound . . Antonio Stranges was the lone 16-year-old in the Knights lineup. Luke Evangelista is at the under-17 worlds and Sahil Panwar and Gerard Keane were scratched . . . Regula was the youngest d-man in London’s lineup. He turns 19 in March . . . Kitchener veteran goaltender Luke Richardson was originally indicated as the starter, but gave way to backup Lucas Pfeil, who turned in a strong performance . . . Sergey Popov scored his first of the season while his father was visiting from Russia this weekend. Matvey Guskov’s family got to see him play, too . . . Former Knights captain Robby Thomas has played eight NHL games. St. Louis faces Carolina Tuesday, so the Blues’ decision on his immediate future will likely be made this week.
London 9 19 8—36
Kitchener 6 13 11—30
Kitchener, ON.: It was a new-look London Knights visiting the Rangers at The Aud on Sunday. Both Evan Bouchard and Alex Formenton returned from stints in the NHL to supercharge an already surging London team.
Bouchard didn’t waste any time getting his first points of the season. At 6:45 of the opening frame, the defenseman scored to make it 1-0, which is how the first period would end.
The second period, despite a great effort by the Rangers, who were crashing the Knights net all afternoon, ended with a goal for the boys in green, to put them up 2-0.
Once again, Kitchener showed all kinds of grit throughout the final frame and dominated the play for the majority of the final 2o-minutes but it was clearly goaltender Joseph Raaymakers day.
Lucas Pfeil was absolutely terrific in net for Kitchener and earned himself second-star honours with 33 saves.
Kitchener started the game strong and fast and their efforts culminated in a couple quality chances to score early on. It was London, however, that opened up the scoring on a goal by none other than the promising Edmonton Oilers defensive prospect, Bouchard (1), at 6:35. It was 1-0 for the Knights.
There were plenty of opportunities for the Rangers in the opening period. Rickard Hugg put a shot off the crossbar and on multiple occasions, Knights goaltender Joseph Raaymakers could have been beaten, but the Rangers just couldn’t find a way to put a puck in the back of the net.
Rangers goaltender Pfeil came up big to start the second period. On a breakaway by the Knights, with the Rangers defense pinching, Pfeil achieved what might have been the save of the night to keep his team’s deficit at just one.
For 19:22 of the middle frame, there were no goals or penalties and it was a terrific period of hockey for both teams, but particularly Raaymakers and Pfeil who were both keeping their teams in the game in what was a terrific display of goaltending.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, with under a minute left in the second, Sergey Popov scored his first of the season for the Knights. The period would end 2-0 in favour of London who were also outshooting the Rangers 28-19.
The third period followed much of the same script as the second with not a lot of scoresheet action but a ton of action on the ice. The Rangers, once again, had a difficult time finding a way to put the puck past Raaymakers and the same was true of the Knights against Pfeil.
The second half of the third was dominated by the Rangers who peppered the net with shots and quality chances but for the second game in a row, Kitchener just couldn’t finish on some great opportunities.
London’s Formenton scored an empty net goal with seconds left and the game ended 3-0 with shots favouring the Knights 36-30.
Kitchener returns to action in Peterborough on Tuesday, November 6 at 7:05 pm face the Petes. The next home game for the Rangers is on Friday, November 9 at 7:30 pm versus the Sarnia Sting.
Tickets still available for all regular season home games. Purchase yours in person at the Activa Box Office at The Aud or Centre in the Square Box Office, by phone (519) 578-1570 or 1-800-265-8977, or online.
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