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London, Ont. natives help Knights carry perfect record into Conference Final series with Saginaw

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The London Knights went out in the offseason and acquired the goaltender they believed could lead them to a championship.

So far, so good as Michael Simpson is a perfect 8-0 in the post season.

“We’ve got to keep the pedal down as it’s only going to get harder from here,” said Simpson, a Londoner who is finishing his OHL career with his hometown team. “It’s amazing to play in front of family and friends, and the Conference Finals are always exciting.”

He’s not the only hometown hero helping the club to an undefeated run thus far.

Jacob Julien of London has recorded hat tricks in each of the past two games, and was just named OHL player of the week.

“I’ve just got to give it to my teammates, they’ve been helping me out, and I’m just doing whatever I can do to help,” said Julien, a draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets. “I’ve been playing with Ruslan Gazizov and Denver Barkey, or Easton Cowan, so I’m pretty fortunate.”

The Knights now know their Western Conference Championship series opponent, after the Saginaw Spirit defended home ice by beating the Soo Greyhounds in the seventh game Tuesday.

The Knights practice at London, Ont.'s Budweiser Gardens ahead of their series with the Saginaw Spirit on April 23, 2024. (Brent Lale/CTV News London)

"They're [Saginaw] a stacked team, and they’re very deep,” said Dylan Hunter, Knights assistant coach. “They've got a lot of skill on defence and playmakers who can break the puck out. They play fast, and they match up pretty close to us.”

Simpson agrees that defeating a team hosting the Memorial Cup, who recorded 102 points in the regular season, is going to be tough.

"They made big moves at the deadline with the Memorial Cup,” said Simpson. “They are going to be a tough task as they have a lot of skill and speed.”

When the puck drops Friday, the Knights will have had eight days off between games, while the Spirit will carry some momentum with just two days off.

The Knights have had some time to relax and practice, but could show rust out of the gate.

"Sometimes it's great to not have anything to think about and get right into it,” said Hunter. “We’ve had some time to work on some systems, and give the boys a couple days to relax, but you won’t know if it’s good or bad until you get into the series.”

Knights assistant coach Dylan Hunter blows the whistle during practice at London, Ont.'s Budweiser Gardens on April 23, 2024. (Brent Lale/CTV News London)

London will have the first two games, as well as a potential game seven at home.

It gives them the benefits of a home town crowd, and last change to get the matchups the coaching staff wants each shift.

With two teams who lead the league in points, and evenly matched on paper, it’s a coin-flip when it comes to predictions.

“At this point they are all good teams, and they don’t really have weaknesses,” said Hunter. “It’s a game of inches, and its going to be power plays, penalty kills and there are going to be ups and downs emotionally. The good things is we have guys who have been in this situation before.”

It should be a classic series, and while there is work to be done, the Knights understand with eight wins down and eight to go, they are half-way to their goal.

"We want to get to the Mem [Memorial] Cup and hopefully bring that home too,” said Julien. 

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