Nikita Zadorov showed why he's so highly regarded for the 2013 NHL Draft.
The London Knights' defenseman jumped into the play early in the third period and banged in the rebound of a Scott Harrington shot for the game-winning power-play goal as the Ontario Hockey League champions opened play at the 2013 MasterCard Memorial Cup with a 3-2 win against the host Saskatoon Blades.
The game was tied 2-2 after 40 minutes, but London took advantage when Saskatoon's Darren Deitz was sent off for high-sticking at 3:56 of the third period.
Late in the power play, Harrington, a 2011 second-round pick by the Pittsburgh Penguins, fired a shot that was stopped by Saskatoon goalie Andrey Makarov. Zadorov, No. 22 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters eligible for this year's draft, drove to the net and knocked in the rebound at 5:45.
MEMORIAL CUP SCHEDULE
May 18, 7 p.m. ET - Portland vs. Halifax
May 19, 7 p.m. ET - Saskatoon vs. Halifax
May 20, 8 p.m. ET - Portland vs. London
May 21, 8 p.m. ET - Halifax vs. London
May 22, 8 p.m. ET - Saskatoon vs. Portland
May 23, 8 p.m. ET - tiebreaker game, if necessary
May 24, 8 p.m. ET - semifinal game
May 26, 7 p.m. ET - championship game
Zadorov had six goals and 23 points in 63 regular-season games and two goals in 20 OHL playoff games, but London coach Dale Hunter said the coaching staff encourages Zadorov to be active offensively.
"We tell him try to go back door," Hunter said. "[Harrington] made a good shot, and it was an uncontrollable rebound."
It was the only power-play goal the Knights scored on six chances, including a two-man advantage early in the second period.
"We had some chances," Hunter said. "You definitely always want it better -- you want to go perfect, but that doesn't happen. You score a big goal at the right time."
Josh Nicholls scored both goals for Saskatoon, which was playing its first game since March 27, when it was eliminated in the first round of the Western Hockey League playoffs. Makarov, a Buffalo Sabres prospect, stopped 30 of 33 shots.
It was the kind of start Saskatoon was hoping for against a London team that had just finished an emotional seven-game OHL championship series May 13.
"We wanted to get off to a quick start and we did that," Saskatoon coach Lorne Molleken said.
London responded with a pair of goals to take a 2-1 lead after one period. Welchyka, providing a screen in front of Makarov, backhanded in the rebound of a Chris Tierney shot at 12:55 to tie the game, and then Bo Horvat, a top prospect for the 2013 draft, stole the puck from Saskatoon defenseman Duncan Siemens and sent the puck to Griffith, a Boston Bruins draft pick, who scored at 18:21.
The Knights had a chance to add to their lead early in the second, as back-to-back penalties to the Blades' Graeme Craig and Matthew Pufahl gave London a 5-on-3 advantage for 54 seconds. However, Makarov was outstanding, making four stops to keep it a one-goal game.
"Makarov was outstanding," Molleken said. "He's a world-class goaltender and he gave us the opportunity to win a hockey game."
Nicholls' second goal, the only one of the second period, tied the game. Stolarz stopped Nicholls' breakaway attempt, but couldn't control the rebound and Nicholls was able to get the puck past him at 15:21.
After Zadorov's go-ahead goal, Saskatoon had a chance on the power play after Griffith was sent off for tripping at 8:25, but couldn't take advantage of that opportunity. The Blades also had a great push at the end after pulling Makarov for an extra attacker, but Stolarz, a Philadelphia Flyers prospect, was strong in goal.
It was Stolarz's first game since Game 4 of the OHL finals. He was replaced for the final three games of the series by Jake Patterson. However, Patterson had the flu earlier in the week and Hunter felt Stolarz was the better option.
"Patterson had a flu, like, three or four days ago," Hunter said. "We gave him some time off, and we decided to go with the guy who wasn't sick three or four days ago." Hunter did not say if Stolarz would return to the net for the Knights' next game, against the WHL champion Portland Winterhawks on Monday.
Despite the loss, Molleken said he was happy with his team's effort in its first game in nearly two months, and saw good things to build for heading into the Blades' next game on Sunday against the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champion Halifax Mooseheads.
"I was pleased with [the team's skating], especially the first two periods," he said. "I thought as the third period wore won we started standing a little bit, didn't generate as much speed through the neutral zone. That's something we'll address as we move forward here. … We had a chance to steal a game here tonight. Going into the third period 2-2, London out-chanced us, no question about that. We had a chance to steal a hockey game and we came up short. We'll have to work through this and get ready for our next challenge on Sunday."