ESPN is well known for their “30 in 30” series.
On Tuesday night in Kitchener the London Knights used a “30 and 30” to beat the Kitchener Rangers 6-2.
Forward Jonathan Gruden scored his 30th goal of the year and Brett Brochu earned his 30th victory as London polished off a 4-2 season series victory and extended their lead atop the Western Conference standings in the Ontario Hockey League to three points over Kitchener. The Knights have nine games remaining on their regular season schedule. The Rangers have eight left.
“Our team has been playing really solid and tonight was a good team win,” said the unflappable Brochu after the game. “It feels good but we still have nine games left and we’re looking forward to those ones too.”
The Knights started the game by killing off three Kitchener power plays and scoring three first period goals.
Matvey Guskov opened the scoring by banging in a Connor McMichael rebound as he went hard to the net in the Rangers zone on a 2-on 1.
Exactly two and a half minutes later, London went ahead 2-0 as Luke Evangelista was sent in on a short-handed breakaway thanks to a feed from Ryan Merkley. Evangelista deked to his backhand and scored his 23rd goal of the season.
The Merkley scored a goal of his own as he carried through all kinds of traffic in the Kitchener end until he got in tight. Merkley then turned and ripped a shot past Kitchener goalie Jacob Ingham for a 3-0 Knights lead.
London came out strong in the second period and limited the Rangers to just two shots in the first twelve minutes. Liam Hawel scored on Kitchener’s third shot of the period at 12:17 to make it 3-1. The goal brought some noise back to what had become a quiet crowd at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium but the Knights did not allow it to last long.
Connor McMichael and Jonathan Gruden scored goals 10 seconds apart with just under six minutes to go in the second period. Gruden hit 30 goals on the season on a slick feed from Liam Foudy.
“It’s pretty cool. I’ve played with a lot of great players this year, so it really is a credit to them. I love being here,” said Gruden as he soaked in the accomplishment.
The assist on Gruden’s goal pushed Foudy’s point streak to 15 games and had London leading 5-1 through 40 minutes.
The teams exchanged goals in the final period. Mike Petizian connected on a Ranger power play and then Kitchener native Jason Willms closed out the scoring as he wired a wrist shot over the glove of Lucas Pfeil who had come in to relieve Ingham for the final 20 minutes.
It was the first regular season goal that Willms had scored in his home town rink. He did get one in a pre-season game while playing for the Barrie Colts but admitted that this one was special.
“There are always nerves coming in here because I spent so much time here when I was younger watching the Rangers and it was extra sweet to get that one at the end.”
Brochu joins some select company as a 17-year old goalie with 30 victories. Only Andrew Loverock, Justin Peters, John Vanbiesbrouck, Kay Whitmore, Brian Finley and former Knight Pat Riggin have hit that mark at that young an age. Brochu keeps adding to the wins record by a London rookie. The old record was held by Ryan MacDonald who had 38 in 2004-05. Riggin had 37 wins as a 17-year old in 1976-77.
The Knights outshot Kitchener 41-21. London was 0-for-4 on the power play and killed off 4 of 5 opportunities that the Rangers had on the man advantage.
McMichael had a goal and two assists for the Knights. Gruden, Evangelista and Merkley had a goal and an assist for London.
The Knights now come home to face the Sarnia Sting for the final time this season on Friday, March 6 at 7:30 at Budweiser Gardens.