OSHAWA, Ont. â€” Mitch Vande Sompel knows what a winning atmosphere feels like.
The defenceman was with the Generals two years ago when Oshawa won its fifth Memorial Cup. Now a member of the Knights following a Jan. 9 trade, Vande Sompel believes London is ready for a lengthy playoff and a shot at repeating as Memorial Cup champions.
“I think we have the skill for sure,” said the New York Islanders prospect. “It’s definitely a different team, my year that we won it was more of a grinding style. We had a good power play (and) we capitalized when we needed to.
“(In London) it’s more of a fast-paced, skilled team. It’s different, but at the same time you get the similar vibe, hopefully going forward we can do that.”
Vande Sompel was one of three trade deadline acquisitions made by Dale Hunter’s club three weeks ago. The Knights also acquired forwards Mitch Stephens from the Saginaw Spirit and Dante Salituro, who was playing professionally in the ECHL before his OHL rights were traded from Ottawa to London.
The new acquisitions have helped London to a 6-1-2 record in nine games since the trade deadline.
Heading into last weekend’s three-game, three-night stretch London (32-8-7) owned the league’s best winning percentage (.761). However, a visit from division-rival Erie last Friday saw the new-look Knights suffer their first regulation loss.
Erie was without leading scorer Alex DeBrincat in the 5-3 win while London was without several players due to injury and illness, including leading scorer and Buffalo Sabres prospect Cliff Pu and Anaheim Ducks 2016 first-rounder Max Jones.
Stephens stepped up in Pu’s absence, scoring three goals and two assists before adding the shootout winner in London’s 7-6 come-from-behind victory over Owen Sound on Saturday.
Then on Sunday night, the Tampa Bay Lightning prospect added two goals in a 4-0 win over Oshawa. The 19-year-old forward now has six goals and six assists in nine games with London.
“He works so damn hard to get into scoring chances,” said Hunter. “He’s a good two-way player. That’s what we need here, that’s why he got drafted in the National Hockey League.”
With the post-season just a month and a half away, the Knights are hoping a little adversity faced in January will help them in a lengthy playoff run.
“I’m sure it’s going to happen along the run and in the playoffs â€” guys are going to get hurt and guys are going to get sick – being able to face that right now, and pulling through on that, is huge,” said Stephens, a member of Canada’s silver-medal-winning world junior team. “It’s big for our morale as well.
“Last two games we were dominant, I thought, coming back from being down 5-1 against Owen Sound and then getting (Knights goaltender Tyler) Parsons the shutout. We’re playing well right now, there’s a lot of guys that are finding a lot of chemistry together and it’s fun playing hockey right now.”
Dhiren Mahiban, The Canadian Press