By John Matisz/London Community News
When faced with the challenge of shadowing the league's top point getter Sunday afternoon (Oct. 30), one of the London Knights' go-to utility men, Tyler Ferry, answered the call.
Limiting the ultra-elusive Nail Yakupov to a single assist in a 3-2 shootout win for London over the Sarnia Sting, Ferry certainly did his part in bringing the Knights' stellar record to 13-2-0-1. His stick work, tight checking, carefully chosen words and overall cloaking of Yakupov was a difference maker in the evenly played match.
Ironically, the shadowing assignment in front of a near-sell-out at the John Labatt Centre pushed the defenseman/forward into the spotlight, as the hype surrounding 17-year-old Yakupov — who has 34 points in just 16 games — continues to mount. The Nizhnekamsk, Russia, native is presently the consensus favourite to be drafted No. 1 overall in June's NHL Entry Draft.
"On the ice, he's the guy I hate the most," Ferry, 18, said following the Knights' fifth win in their last six contests. "That's why I'm here; to shut down the best players in the league."
Picking up the victory in goal was the Ontario Hockey League's (OHL) only 12-game winner, Michael Houser. The undrafted netminder faced 32 shots from Sarnia's high-powered offense while his adversary, third-year OHLer Brandon Maxwell, saw 42 pucks fired his way in the loss.
Dane Fox and Andreas Athanasiou found the back of the net for London in regulation time, while Matt Rupert and Seth Griffith potted the shootout's only goals. Griffith, who was riding an eight-game scoring streak into Sunday's matinee affair, was held off of the score sheet otherwise. In 2011-12 thus far, the right winger has 21 points in 16 games, which leads all Knights players.
From London's perspective, the win over their rival from down Highway 402 kept the Sting (11-2-0-3) at bay as both squads battle for the OHL regular season crown. With two weekend games on the horizon — Friday at home versus the Brampton Battalion and Saturday on the road against the Erie Otters — the Knights' four-week reign atop the Canadian Hockey League's top 10 list will likely continue when rankings are released Wednesday.
Ferry, a 5-foot-10, 175-pounder, is listed as a defenseman but has seen the ice in 2011-12 as a forward, too. His shutdown role did not emerge over night either. In 2008, shortly after being drafted by the Knights 296th overall, Ferry said general manager Mark Hunter had already figured out the youngster's defined role.
"He said, 'you're going to come in and grind, not put up 100 points, but grind,'" Ferry recalled. Misha Donskov, London's assistant general manager/coach, praised Ferry's personality and drive after the game. "First and foremost he's a character kid. He skates exceptionally well, has good hockey sense and competes really, really hard."
Since his talk with Hunter three years ago, the Richmond Hill, Ont., product has mapped out a mental picture of what his role as a Knights utility player entails.
"Over the summer I was thinking about the games that were going to be against Yakupov, games against (Greg McKegg of the Erie Otters)," he said. "It fired me up, helped me work harder."
As well, it helps he has Russian Vlad Namestnikov by his side. The Tampa Bay Lightning's 2011 first-round draft choice offered some guidance to Ferry, his linemate Sunday, before beginning the match.
"Vladdy gave me some Russian chirps so I got that in there, too," Ferry said, adding he made sure to get under Yakupov's skin every chance he had.
Versus Sarnia two weeks earlier, Ferry had his first taste of shadowing the highly touted European. Taking three minor penalties and allowing Yakupov to conjure up a pair of points was not exactly the dream result for the sophomore.
"The first game in Sarnia was a learning process of what to do, what not to do," the OHL leader in minor penalties said in hindsight.
As an almost-19-year-old — birthday is Dec. 9 — on a mainly 18-year-old squad, Ferry is one of the eldest Knights. With that in mind, he knows his spot on the No. 1 ranked team in the country.
"Some guys may not be happy to fit the role of a defensive specialist – but I am."
— Athanasiou, who is eligible for the NHL draft in June, had a slow start to the season. However, with 10 points in his last 12 games, the 17-year-old appears to have found his step. One of his coaches, Donskov, said the speedster has "elevated" his game.
— Sidelined since London's Oct. 14 win over the Erie Otters, team captain and Montreal Canadiens prospect Jarred Tinordi will likely return to the Knights' lineup Friday. "At this point, he's day-to-day," Donskov said.
— For the seventh game in a row, Houser manned the Knights' cage. Back-up Jake Patterson, who started Oct. 15 versus the Guelph Storm, may get his second crack at action in a London uniform this coming weekend. Donskov said the team is "managing (Houser's) minutes and game schedule, making sure he's fresh each night."