Easton Cowan scored once and added two assists as the London Knights completed the regular season with a 5-1 win over the Kitchener Rangers on March 26 at Budweiser Gardens.
That win by London combined with a 6-4 Owen Sound victory over the Saginaw Spirit means the Knights will play the Owen Sound Attack in the first round of the playoffs. It will be the eighth meeting between the two clubs in the post-season.
The series will open in London, Ont., on Friday, March 31 at 7 p.m. at Budweiser Gardens. Game 2 will be Sunday, Apr. 2 at 2 p.m., also at Budweiser Gardens.
The win over the Rangers gave the Knights a 45-21-2 record on the year and the Midwest Division championship. They enter the playoffs as the second seed in the Western Conference.
After a ceremony to honour London’s overage players, the Knights got off to a very fast start.
It took Cowan one minute and 51 seconds to hit the 20-goal mark in his rookie season in the Ontario Hockey League. That made it 1-0 for the Knights.
London went up 2-0 on a header by George Diaco. Diaco’s father Rocco is known for being an excellent soccer player so maybe George comes by it naturally but a deflected puck hit Diaco on the visor and bounced past Rangers goalie Marcus Vandenburg.
Kitchener forward Reid Valade scored his sixth goal in six games against the Knights this season on a second period power play to chop London’s lead in half.
Logan Mailloux’s 25th on a pass from Easton Cowan restored a three-goal advantage for the Knights and then Landon Sim took a long pass from Ruslan Gazizov and scored his first goal since returning from a lower-body injury that cost Sim 11 games in February and March and London was up 4-1 after 40 minutes.
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Denver Barkey finished the scoring with his 22nd goal at 12:48 of the third period.
London held the Rangers to 19 shots and Brett Brochu stopped 18 of them for his 89th career victory.
Dorchester, Ont., native Marcus Vandenburg faced 36 shots in goal for Kitchener.
Honouring the graduating overagers
The Knights held an on-ice tribute for their three overage players before the game against the Rangers. Co-captains Sean McGurn and George Diaco and goaltender Brett Brochu were presented with framed jerseys to continue a tradition begun by Mark and Dale Hunter years ago.
Brochu entered the OHL as a 17-year-old sixth round pick trying to win himself the backup job for the Knights in 2019-20. Not long into that season the Belle River, Ont, native had taken over the number one job in London’s crease.
Brochu set a record that year for most wins by a 16 or 17-year old rookie goaltender in the Ontario Hockey League and he did it even though the final six games of the Knights schedule were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
When OHL hockey returned Brochu continued his rise. He was named OHL Goaltender of the Year in 2021-22 and represented Canada at two World Junior Hockey Championships where he won gold both times. Brochu is second in all-time wins by a Knights goalie, fourth in all-time games played and second to only Steve Mason with nine career assists. Mason had 11.
McGurn was a third round pick by the Knights in 2018 and joined the team as a 17-year old for the 2019-20 season following an excellent season in the GOJHL with the St. Thomas Stars a year prior.
McGurn scored his first OHL goal on New Year’s Eve in 2019 against the Sarnia Sting and then followed that up after the cancelled 2020-21 year with two huge offensive seasons with the Knights.
The Ottawa, Ont., native had 20 goals and 73 points as a 19-year old and a career best 27 goals and 83 points as a co-captain with London this year. McGurn sits 48th all-time in London Knights OHL scoring despite only being able to play two full seasons of OHL hockey.
When Diaco took off his London Jr. Knights jersey after a loss to the Brantford 99ers in 2017-18 he figured he would never put on that logo again. Diaco was a draft pick of the Hamilton Bulldogs and signed with Hamilton during the 2018-19 season while playing for the London Nationals.
As a Bulldog Diaco had a breakout year at just the right time with 70 points in 68 games in 2021-22 to help Hamilton go on a run that would lead them to an OHL championship and to the Memorial Cup final. The Londoner was brought home on Oct. 11 when the Knights acquired him from the Bulldogs and after less than a month he was named a co-captain alongside McGurn.
Diaco posted career bests with 46 assists and 71 points in his year with London.
Game 1 of the playoffs will take place on Friday, March 31 at Budweiser Gardens against the Owen Sound Attack.
The teams have faced each other seven times in history. London has won five of those first seven series. The teams split the season series 3-3 in 2022-23.
Coverage of Game 1 will begin at 6:30 on 980 CFPL, at http://www.980cfpl.ca and on the Radioplayer Canada app.
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