By RYAN PYETTE THE LONDON FREE PRESS
With Jarred Tinordi still at Montreal Canadiens training camp, the London Knights are missing a high-profile son of a former NHLer in their opening lineup Friday at the John Labatt Centre. But the Plymouth Whalers, who started Thursday in Windsor, aren’t.
First-rounder Max Iafrate, whose dad Al is a former Toronto Maple Leaf, is suiting up for the Whalers this season.
“When I first met Max’s dad and shook his hand, I thought he was going to break it,” Plymouth defenceman and Port Stanley native Jay Gilbert said. “He’s that strong. He’s a big guy.”
The Knights begin the 2010-11 season with seven Americans on their roster, including starting goalie Michael Houser. For years, Plymouth led the way almost exclusively in steering top U.S. college talent to the OHL ranks.
To this day, the Whalers are one of the league’s most vital franchises because of its proximity to the U.S. national team development program site in Ann Arbor, Mich.
London’s Tinordi, for example, saw his first OHL game at the Compuware Sports Arena.
“We would get teams of them at our games,” Plymouth GM Mike Vellucci said.
“They want information. You still see a lot of them come to check out what the league’s all about. It’s not a secret anymore and it’s made it harder (for the Whalers). Mark (Hunter) made a great pick getting Pat Kane in the fourth round. I remember when Guelph got (New York Ranger) Ryan Callahan. That turned some heads. It’s good to have these guys in the league.”
And Plymouth is often the entry point.
The preseason was not kind to the London Knights defence in terms of injury.
Jake Worrad is out at least four months with a torn ACL suffered during an exhibition game against Plymouth.
Promising Troy Donnay, a skyscraper of a rookie, needed stitches to close a skate cut near his ankle and missed some practices last week.
Reid McNeill has been sporting a cast on his arm but isn’t letting it stop him from starting the regular season Friday.
“It’s nothing,” the Pittsburgh draft pick said.
The Knights opened last season with a JLC victory over the defending Memorial Cup champion Windsor Spitfires and finished 30-4 on home ice — the third-best home record in the OHL (behind Barrie and Windsor).