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Original Issue

Junior Achievers

Hockey caught a glimpse of its future-and perhaps the best junior team ever-during the Memorial Cup tournament

The lingering question after the London Knights dismantled Sidney Crosby's Rimouski Océanic 4-0 on Sunday in the Memorial Cup final was not how the defeat would affect Crosby's stature (the prodigy is bulletproof) but if the Knights were the greatest junior team ever assembled. Canadian junior hockey champions often are judged in retrospect-how successful their players become in the NHL-and London, which had a record unbeaten streak of 31 games to start the season and finished 79-9-2, including the playoffs, will likely have fewer stars than, say, the 1969 Montreal Junior Canadiens, which featured Gilbert Perreault, Rick Martin and Andre (Moose) Dupont. But during the Memorial Cup tournament in their hometown John Labatt Centre, the Knights, with 10 NHL draftees, demonstrated an extraordinary pedigree. Corey Perry, Danny Syvret and Robbie Schremp likely will be NHL impact players, yet London won because coach Dale Hunter got talented teens to sacrifice, not play for a contract or draft status. "They have depth of talent at every position," said Peter DeBoer, coach of the rival Kitchener Rangers. "More important, they have depth of character."

The Knights were so deep that Danny Fritsche, a center with 19 NHL games under his belt, was shoehorned onto the second line. Certainly any team with an NHL vet in a supporting role would be too loaded for a one-trick pony like the Océanic. Granted, it was a pretty swell trick-Crosby's unit scored 45 of the Océanic's 51 points in the tournament-but the team was gassed after whipping the Ottawa 67's 7-4 in the semifinal 19 hours before facing London.

Despite being shut down in the final, the 17-year-old Crosby led the tournament with six goals and five assists and handled everything that came his way with aplomb, including being hounded by the physical 67's in a round-robin game-hockey always cannibalizes its own-and by a media contingent that swelled to almost 350 because of the NHL lockout. Said Blue Jackets G.M. Doug MacLean, who will have an excellent chance to win the lottery for the right to draft Crosby (assuming the NHL and the players' association slouch to an agreement this summer): "I've never seen hands like this kid has. He has passing skills better than I've ever seen in the game." -Michael Farber




London kept Crosby (87), the tournament's top scorer, under wraps in the final.