The Ontario Hockey League’s Midwest Division might just be the most competitive division in all of hockey.
In the last 11 years, all five teams in the division have won the OHL championship so being Midwest Division champs carries a special badge of honour for the team that ends the season on top.
A 3-1 win by the London Knights in Erie on Sunday afternoon gave them their third straight win and the Midwest title in 2019.
It marks the first time London has finished in first place in the division since 2013. The team also won the Memorial Cup in 2016.
Antonio Stranges broke a 1-1 tie just over seven minutes into the third period with a backhand from the high slot that got under the blocker of Erie goalie Cole Ceci.
“Growing up, I was able to score goals that way,” said the London rookie forward. “It was nice to be able to do it in the OHL.”
Alec Regula salted the game away with an empty-netter in the final minute.
Adam Boqvist, the OHL’s Defenceman of the Month, scored the other London goal. He now has 19 on the season.
The Knights have five games remaining in the regular season, and they sit six points ahead of the Saginaw Spirit for first place in the Western Conference. London is eight points ahead of Sault Ste. Marie. Both teams have a game in hand on the Knights.
London will play the Spirit twice and the Greyhounds once before the season ends.
Now that the Knights have clinched their division, the lowest point at which London will enter the playoffs is as the No. 2 seed.
Boqvist crept close to 20 on the season by getting his 19th at 4:36 of the first period. Alex Formenton tried to centre a puck in front from behind the Erie net, and it bounced right to Boqvist coming in from the right point, and he wired a wrist shot past Ceci for a 1-0 London lead.
The Otters benefitted from a second-period bounce as Petr Cajka came across the London blue line and wristed a shot that hit off a Knights stick and deflected right over the glove of Jordan Kooy and into the top corner of the London net to tie the game 1-1.
Stranges scored the game winner on a backhand shot from the high slot at 7:49 of the second period to break the 1-1 tie.
Regula scored his 10th goal of the year into an empty net with 36 seconds remaining, finishing the scoring at 3-1.
185-footer for 100 points
When Joey Keane grabbed a puck off a faceoff late in the London Knights’ 4-1 win in Hamilton on March 2 and flung it down the ice into the empty Bulldogs net, he hit 100 career points in the OHL. The goal capped off quite a couple of days for the 19-year-old from Homer Glen, Ill. Keane signed his first professional contract with the New York Rangers this week and will have a chance to turn pro next year. In the meantime, he and his younger brother, Gerard, will continue to chase a championship as members of the Knights.
Boqvist named Defenceman of the Month
The ice chips have settled on an incredibly busy February for the London Knights, and Boqvist has come away from 13 games in 26 days with a smile on his face. He has been named OHL Defenceman of the Month for February. The Chicago Blackhawk prospect had six goals and 13 assists for 19 points. He had six multi-point games, passed the 50-point mark on the year and is zeroing in on 20 goals. Chicago selected the native of Falun, Sweden, with the eighth pick in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft.
London will come back for its final regular season home games on March 8 and 9 at Budweiser Gardens. The Knights will host the Flint Firebirds in a Friday night game. Flint currently sits 19th in the overall standings after beating Kingston to move out of the OHL basement. London is 3-0 against Flint this season.
Following that game, a switch flips on the Knights’ schedule. They will play their final four games against the other three top teams in the Western Conference. London will be home to the Saginaw Spirit on Saturday, March 9 at 7 p.m. Saginaw has been one of the top teams in the league over the second half of the season. The teams have only met twice this year. London won 4-1 at Budweiser Gardens. The Spirit won 6-3 in Saginaw.