London Knights forward Kyle Piwowarczyk sat in the dressing Monday night, contemplating next season.
“Every year we’re the underdogs,” the 19-year-old Londoner said moments after the Knights were eliminated from the Ontario Hockey League playoffs by the Plymouth Whalers.
“I hope next year we’re expected to go far. Maybe we’ll be the overdogs for a change.”
The Knights were the underdogs in both series but beat the Windsor Spitfires in seven games in the Western Conference quarter-finals, then bowed to the Whalers in seven in the semifinals.
“The scary part is we could have won,” Knights co-owner and general manager Mark Hunter said yesterday of the Plymouth series.
“I really wanted to see them play a seventh game and you could see the desire to win and that’s a good feeling to stand there and watch. But it still hurts when you lose.”
Getting over that hurdle is now management’s priority.
Hunter and his brother Dale, who will be back behind the bench next season, are preparing for the league draft on May 3.
The Knights are hoping they can land another diamond in the rough, like a Rick Nash or a Corey Perry.
Goaltending and the defence are solid, Mark Hunter said, it’s up front where he has some concerns for next season as over-age players Mike Stathopoulos and Ryan Hare are gone.
“We need that forward, and whether we get that from within with someone stepping up, or in our draft, or from the European draft, we do need a goal scorer,” Hunter said.
While the Knights don’t lose many to graduation, the players who are moving on played huge roles.
Hunter said they’ll be at the mercy of pro teams with respect to the three over-age spots.
Defenceman Dennis Wideman and captain Danny Bois would be givens, depending on where their careers take them in September.
Piwowarczyk also took time on Monday night to mention the graduating over-agers.
“We had a lot in this room and I’m sure everybody saw it. I feel bad for the older guys,” he said, naming goaltender Chris Houle, Stathopoulos and Hare.
“This was their last shot. But I’m sure they have no regrets. If they do, they shouldn’t.”
Mark Hunter said nobody should have any regrets for how the season finished up.
“The regular season started slowly and it did catch us off a bit not getting Rick (Nash) back,” he said.
“It was always lingering in our minds that he might be back and for the first quarter of the season it put our organization in a little bit of a bump.
“It took other people time to respond to situations on the ice.”
When others finally did respond, the Knights got some great efforts and especially from their rookies.
Following that final game, Stathopoulos praised rookies Danny Syvret, Kyle Quincey, Marc Methot, Adam Nemeth, Brandon Prust and David Bolland.
“The young guys stepped up and played beyond their years,” Stathopoulos said.
Hunter had said from the beginning the rookies would play well, but even he was surprised with some, especially Syvret on defence and Prust on forward, where he was a walk-on at training camp.
“Danny Syvret is a class act and he’ll be a good example for our organization for a long time,” Hunter said.
“I had a lot of belief in our young D from day one. But all the rookies came in and played better than we thought they would, especially in the playoffs.”