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KNIGHTS DOWN ICEDOGS IN WEEKNIGHT TILT

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Jonathan Gruden broke a scoreless tie in the second period and set up three Knights goals as London defeated the Niagara IceDogs 5-2 on Tuesday night in St. Catharines.

With the Knights on a run that has seen them rarely lose and the IceDogs struggling to get wins, the game started as the stats would suggest. London recorded the first 13 shots on goal but were turned aside again and again by Niagara goaltender Christian Sbaraglia.

The IceDogs did not hit Knights goalie Brett Brochu with a puck until the 9:47 mark of the opening period. Brochu made that stop and 26 more to earn his 12th victory in a row.

London now has nine consecutive wins and 14 in their past 15 games. Niagara has lost six in a row.

It took until the 12:29 mark of the second period for the puck to find the back of a net and it happened as the teams exchanged 5-on-3 power plays. Two consecutive penalties by London were followed by two straight penalties by Niagara and Ryan Merkley and Jonathan Gruden made the IceDogs pay.

Merkley found Gruden at the side of the Niagara net and the Ottawa Senators tipped it past Sbaraglia for a 1-0 Knights lead. The pass by Merkley gave him eight assists in his past four games and the 200th helper of his OHL career.

“It was cool to be a part of [Merkley’s] 200th assist,” admitted Gruden, who pointed to London’s patience as being a real key to the game.

“We peppered them with shots in the first period and nothing came our way, but we stayed with the course and kept getting chances and got some good bounces, so it was a good win.”

Later in the second period, Gruden took on the role of playmaker as he found Hunter Skinner going to the net and Skinner knocked the puck off the post, off the leg of Sbaraglia and in for Skinner’s fifth goal of the season and a 2-0 London advantage through 40 minutes.

Max McCue’s second of the season on a deflection gave the Knights a 3-0 lead at 9:33 of period three. McCue made contact on a Skinner shot after Gruden had put the puck back to Skinner at the right point.

“It’s always good when you can get a goal and not get scored on,” smiled McCue after the game. “When you contribute on the offensive side, it’s fun.”

Gruden’s fourth point of the game was a pass to Liam Foudy just who used his speed to stretch London’s lead to 4-0 on Foudy’s 19th goal of the year.

Niagara tightened the gap to 4-2 on goals by Jonah De Simone and Oliver Castleman who tipped in a shot on a power play. Those goals came less than two minutes apart.

The Knights wound down the final five-plus minutes of the third period and then got a long range empty-netter from Alec Regula to end the scoring at 5-2.

London outshot Niagara 48-24.

Connor McMichael was held off the score sheet for just the third time in 2019-20, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying. The Washington prospect had nine shots on goal and Sbaraglia stopped every one of them.

Tuesday’s game was not originally on the schedule. It was rescheduled from December 12 after that game was stopped in the second period when 17-year old Niagara goalie Tucket Tynan suffered a severe skate cut to his leg. Tynan has undergone two surgeries to repair the damage and is expected to make a full recovery.

The Knights return home to meet the Saginaw Spirit in a battle of the top two teams in the Western Conference as the standings sit now. The Kitchener Rangers can squeeze between the Knights and Spirit if they can pick up a win in Sault Ste. Marie on Wednesday night.

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