The first-place London Nationals (12-1-0-1) are the team to beat in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League Western Conference and the retooling Komoka Kings (5-5-1-1) will be looking to see how they measure up when they visit Western Fair Sports Centre Wednesday at 7 p.m.
Despite losing last year’s top scorers Joel Mazzilli (30 goals and 73 points), Kurt Watson, Chase Strychaluk and Ryan McAllister, the Kings took the defending conference champs to overtime in a 5-4 loss Oct. 5 in Komoka.
“I think I counted about 160 points we’ve lost,” Kings head coach Ron Horvat said. “When you lose that much scoring at the top of your lineup, you hope that guys that were getting 20 and 30 points will step up and fill that void. They are, but only to a point. We need to be better.”
President and general manager Roop Chanderdat said the Kings are making changes and heading in the right direction, picking up seven of eight points in four games before a 7-3 loss Sunday in Chatham.
Chanderdat said the Kings added some depth at forward, signing 16-year-old Will German and adding another former London Junior Knight in Joey Studnicka in a trade with the Nationals.
“They are both skilled players,” he said. “We have some injuries right now and they will get a chance to play and show the coaching staff where they fit in the lineup.”
Horvat said his young team won’t lack motivation when it faces the Nats.
“The kids know who we’re playing,” he said. “They know every player on the other side. Everybody brings their A-game and competes hard when we play London.”
Losing to London in overtime — on a Michael Boushy goal three seconds after a Nats power play expired — was an encouraging result for the Kings.
“We played with them and we played hard,” Horvat said. “I know what they have on their end and they have a lot of good players — forwards, defence and goaltending — and when we saw we could compete with them in that first game, it was a real positive for our hockey team, so I expect our guys to come in there and compete again.”
London Nationals head coach and general manager Pat Powers wouldn’t expect anything less.
“We anticipate the same effort from those guys and it’s really going to be a challenge for us,” he said.
“They usually come out hard. They are banging bodies and just trying to make life miserable for us.”
Powers said every team in the conference comes in with added motivation to beat the Nationals, which isn’t a bad thing.
“That comes with its own challenges and makes us a better team moving forward to the playoffs, but every team in our conference is very stiff competition,” he said. “They’ve all got deep rosters and they definitely come motivated to play every night.”