Community pulls together to impress Knights, Otters
BY SHAWN LOUGHLIN
While the result on the ice may not have sent hundreds of local London Knights fans home happy last Thursday, it was the party off the ice that will stick in many memories for years to come.
The Erie Otters defeated the 2015/2016 Memorial Cup champion London Knights by a score of 5-2 on Sept. 8 in an exhibition game held at the Central Huron Community Complex in an event largely orchestrated by Blyth native Brent Scrimgeour.
Scrimgeour, who is greatly connected to the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) organization, was instrumental in first bringing the Knights to Blyth several years ago for a practice and fan festival and was behind bringing the exhibition game to Clinton.
“Overall I think it was an overwhelming success,” Scrimgeour said.
Players and coaches from both organizations made comments to Scrimgeour, he said, regarding how impressive the arena was and how well both teams, as well as the fans, were treated.
Tickets to the game sold out in a matter of days, meaning that 1,400 people packed the arena, as well as dozens of others in the designated VIP section near both teams’ benches.
The game also included a large fan festival both in front of and in the upstairs section of the arena, which included games and a number of fundraisers for local hockey associations, including Blyth Brussels Minor Hockey.
Scrimgeour says his hope is that the Knights organization was impressed with the demand and enthusiasm shown in Huron County for the game and that the community will become a regular stop for the team on its exhibition schedule.
After the game, the Knights signed autographs for hundreds of fans who stuck around, while the Otters, who were not scheduled as part of the session, stayed and signed autographs as well.
A move like that, Scrimgeour said, really showed that the game included two very classy organizations that have a lot of respect for their fans.
The effort and enthusiasm in Huron County for the game didn’t go unnoticed by the players on the ice or the coaching staff.
“It’s pretty nice. Obviously Clinton put a lot of effort into this and all the players really appreciate it,” said Cliff Pu, who scored 12 goals and 19 assists in the Knights’ Memorial Cup season. Pu was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2016 NHL entry draft.
The atmosphere in Clinton, said Assistant Coach Dylan Hunter, is one to which plenty of the players and coaches can relate.
“It’s great. It’s grassroots. A lot of the guys on the team come from similar communities and having the chance to play here is good for us and it’s good for the fans to get more of an up-close look in their own backyard,” Hunter said.
Hunter added that the facility was great and that the volunteers had done a fantastic job preparing for the game.
The Knights came out swinging in the game, leading 2-1 after goals from Janne Kuokkanen and Kole Sherwood. Both players also notched assists as well.
However, the game was tied going into the third period and the Otters pulled away with two more goals, adding an empty-net goal with just seconds left in the game for a final score of 5-2.
Ernie Phillips of the Blyth area was on hand for the ceremonial puck drop. Phillips was one of just a handful of people who have hand-engraved the Stanley Cup over the years.
Irelyn and Mary Paige St. Onge of Seaforth sang the Canadian and American national anthems.
Scrimgeour said everything went well and that he found his job easy with how many hard-working and dedicated volunteers that were on hand, as well as the two organizations that were an absolute joy to work with.
The game meant more to Scrimgeour than just what happened on the ice or the compliments he’s receiving from fans. For him, this was a life achievement that he’ll always remember.
Scrimgeour said that this event was one of his life’s goals to bring an OHL game to the community.
“I’ve been telling people that I can stroke it off my bucket list,” Scrimgeour said. “It’s always been a dream of mine and I got to do it.”