Legends of Hockey - Spotlight - London Knights - 2005
Spotlight
One on One Turning Point

London Knights - 2005
Former NHL starts, Mark and Dale Hunter purchased the London Knights in 2000.
Former NHL stars, Mark and Dale Hunter purchased the London Knights in 2000. (Photo by Dave Sandford/Paul Bereswill/Hockey Hall of Fame)
The Ontario Hockey Association granted London a junior franchise to begin in the 1964-65 season. At the time, National Hockey League teams sponsored junior franchises, and it was the Toronto Maple Leafs who were the parent club of the new London team. The Maple Leafs were looking to replace the Toronto St. Michael Majors, and their replacements, the Neil McNeil Maroons, who folded following the 1962-63 season. London's junior franchise would join the Leafs' other junior franchise, the Toronto Marlboros, in the OHA.

The London team was named the Nationals after their sponsor, the Canadian National Recreation Association, which was an organized group of Canadian National Railways employees.

After three seasons, NHL sponsorship of junior squads concluded and a draft was instituted. The Nationals were sold by the Maple Leaf ownership to Howard Darwin, who subsequently renamed the team the Knights.

The team went through several ownership changes until 2000, when the London franchise was purchased by Dale and Mark Hunter, both former NHL players who called nearby Petrolia, Ontario home. The brothers joined civic leaders in lobbying for a new arena to replace the aged and small Ice Garden. They were successful, and in October 2002, the John Labatt Centre, a 9,090-seat multi-purpose entertainment centre and arena, was opened.

The London Knights hockey club celebrate their 4-0 victory over the Rimouski Oceanic in the Memorial Cup at the John Labatt Centre, London, Ontario, Canada.
The London Knights hockey club celebrate their 4-0 victory over the Rimouski Oceanic in the Memorial Cup at the John Labatt Centre, London, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Dave Sandford/Canadian Hockey League)
The Hunters were progressive managers, and secured a stellar roster of junior talent that gelled and matured to form an unprecedented dynasty through the first half of the decade beginning in 2000. Added and contributing significantly to the roster were Rick Nash and Dennis Wideman in 2000-01, Corey Perry in 2001-02, Dave Bolland, Gerald Coleman, Marc Methot, Brandon Prust and Danny Syvret in 2002-03, Robbie Schremp in 2003-04, Adam Dennis in 2004-05, Steve Mason in 2005-06 and Sam Gagner and Patrick Kane in 2006-07.

The Knights, with Mark as general manager and Dale coaching, went on an unprecedented run, winning the Midwest Division in 2003-04, 2004-05, 2005-06 and 2006-07. They took the Western Conference in 2004-05 and 2005-06. They were the OHL champions in 2004-05 and 2005-06 and won the Memorial Cup as junior champions in 2004-05. That same season, the Hunters had secured hosting the Memorial Cup tournament for the Budweiser Gardens.

Individually, Corey Perry was the league's leading scorer in 2004-05, Rob Schremp followed in 2005-06 and Patrick Kane took the honour in 2006-07. Danny Syvret was both the OHL and the CHL Defenceman of the Year in 2004-05. Gerald Coleman and Ryan MacDonald teamed to earn the Dave Pinkney Trophy for having the lowest team goals-against average in 2003-04, with Coleman and Adam Dennis earning the award the very next year. Adam Dennis was the OHL's best goaltender in 2005-06 and Steve Mason won in 2006-07. Rick Nash was the OHL's top rookie in 2000-01 and Patrick Kane took the honour in 2006-07. In addition, Dale Hunter won the Matt Leyden Trophy as OHL coach of the year in 2003-04 and 2004-05, and took CHL coach of the year in 2003-04, while Mark Hunter was named OHL Executive of the Tear in 2003-04.

There is no doubt that the franchise turned a corner when the Hunters bought the team, and as a result, the acquisition of the London Knights becomes the turning point for this exciting team.

Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.