RED DEER, AB – The top line for the London Knights, which has wowed Ontario Hockey League fans all season, took its show to the national stage on Friday night.
The line of Mitch Marner, Christian Dvorak and Matthew Tkachuk combined for 10 points as the Knights opened the 2016 MasterCard Memorial Cup with a 6-2 victory over the Red Deer Rebels.
Marner finished the night with two goals and three assists while Dvorak added two goals and two assists. Tkachuk picked up an assist in the win.
“Tonight was one of those nights where everything seemed to be working,” Tkachuk said. “Especially after the 10-minute mark of the first period.”
Marner’s five-point night was one short of tying the Memorial Cup record for points in a game, set by Hamilton’s Joe Contini in 1976 and tied in 1986 by Guy Rouleau of Hull.
For Dvorak, the attention the three receive on a regular basis is something they try to avoid.
“We don’t really pay attention to that, we’re just trying to keep playing our game,” Dvorak said.
“It’s pretty special,” Marner said of playing with Dvorak and Tkachuk. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s a surprise every day watching what they can do with a puck. Devo and Tkachuk have been a big help for this whole team. Chucky coming in as a rookie and what he’s done for the team has helped out a lot. Me and Devo have been here for three years and we know what it takes to win. We just keep working every day to get better.”
Marner would also call it fun to play with the duo.
“We just know where each other is on the ice,” Marner said. “It’s nice going out there every day and knowing what your teammates want to do with the puck and that’s really what we’ve developed in the past year.”
The Rebels had high praise for the trio following the contest.
“That’s probably the best line in the CHL and we didn’t do a good enough job of holding them,” said Red Deer forward Conner Bleackley. “Each of them probably had three or four points and when they do that you’re chances are pretty slim of winning.”
Bleackley would also say that there is a way to limit the group, but the three still manage to make life difficult for opposing teams.
“Making them play in their own end is probably the easiest answer but it’s easier said than done,” Bleackley said. “They only need inches to get the puck through. The biggest part is being physical. They don’t like to get hit. I don’t think anybody does. Being physical with them and back-checking hard, all of those things go into stopping top players like that.”
For the Knights, the team isn’t satisfied after winning the opening game.
“We’re not satisfied yet, we’ve got two more games here in the round robin so we’ve got to be ready for (Brandon and Rouyn-Noranda),” said Dvorak.
The Rebels jumped out of the gate, taking the play to the Knights in the opening minutes of the game before a penalty to Haydn Fleury led to a power play goal and a shift in the momentum of the contest.
“We had a good start and our first ten minutes of the game was what we wanted to do,” said Red Deer General Manager/Coach Brent Sutter. “As a coach you’re always worried about the first ten minutes. The whole momentum of the game changed when we took a bad penalty. Then they got the power play goal and it didn’t seem like we regrouped after that.”
The tournament continues on Saturday night as the Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL champions) take on the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Rouyn-Noranda Huskies. Sault Ste. Marie native Jason Fortier is an assistant coach with the Huskies.
The Rebels will be back in action on Sunday night against the Huskies while the Knights will be off until Monday when it faces Brandon.