LONDON, Ont. - The Niagara IceDogs and London Knights each went through a fair amount of adversity on the way to the Ontario Hockey League final.
The IceDogs started the season with no fewer than 12 players at NHL training camps, while the Knights lost their coach to the Washington Capitals in November.
Through it all, the two teams find themselves ready to tangle for the OHL championship, which begins Thursday in London.
"We're excited about this series and we're eager to get it going," IceDogs head coach and general manager Marty Williamson by telephone during a Wednesday press conference.
With many key players at NHL camps to begin the regular season, Niagara started with just three wins in 10 starts.
"We got off to a rough start, but we stayed the course," said Williamson, whose team finished with a 47-18-3 record. "We believed in the team we had. We added a couple players at the deadline and we continued to get better as the year went along."
London, meanwhile, lost head coach Dale Hunter when he was hired by the Capitals on Nov. 28. His brother, Mark Hunter, took over and the Knights didn't miss a beat, finishing the season 49-18-1.
"At the end of the day, this is a championship series between two good teams," said Mark Hunter, who is also the Knights' vice-president and general manager. "Niagara has a potent offence, so we will have to match their speed and keep the tempo up."
The series with a spot in the Memorial Cup on the line is sure to feature a slew of future NHLers
Niagara goalie and Phoenix Coyotes prospect Mark Visentin set a new record for shutouts in one season with 10, while compiling a microscopic 1.99 goals-against-average.
Making those numbers even more impressive is that Visentin missed several weeks with Canada at the world junior hockey championship. Niagara's roster had four additional players on the Canadian roster who have been drafted ??? brothers Freddie and Dougie Hamilton, Ryan Strome and Jamie Oleksiak.
The Knights boast some talent of their own. Goalie Michael Houser, who was named the league's most outstanding player Wednesday, tied the league record for wins (46) in a season, appeared in 62 of 68 contests and was tied for second in shutouts (six).
London's offence has been paced all season by Seth Griffith, who like Houser, has not been drafted by a NHL club. Griffith notched 45 goals and 85 points in the regular season and leads the post-season numbers with eight goals and 19 points.
The emerging player of the playoffs is defenceman Olli Maatta of Finland, who was the No. 1 overall CHL import pick last summer, and has 19 playoff points for the Knights.
With Strome and Dougie Hamilton missing portions of the OHL regular season, it was captain Andrew Agozzino who led Niagara with 88 points in the regular season.
The club's overwhelming depth now has Agozzino sixth in team production in the post-season, trailing NHL draftees Strome (21), Alex Friesen (21), Freddie Hamilton (21), Dougie Hamilton (19) and David Pacan (18) leading the way.
Steve Shipley, Brett Ritchie, Brock Beukeboom, Mitch Theoret and Tom Kuhnhackl have also been drafted.
London's key to victory could be the addition of Greg McKegg, who missed the entire Western Conference final with an undisclosed injury.
The Knights will also rely on the defence of Canadian world junior Scott Harrington, plus captain Jarred Tinordi and reliable play of Tommy Hughes and overager Brett Cook, along with forwards Vladislav Namestnikov, Austin Watson, Jared Knight and an impressive list of yet-to-be-drafted forwards in Max Domi, Bo Horvat, Andreas Athanasiou, Josh Anderson, Chris Tierney and twin brothers Ryan and Matt Rupert.
London last won the OHL title in 2005 before winning the Memorial Cup.
The IceDogs have never won an OHL championship.