London News & Search
Two summers ago, Christian Dvorak relocated from the Chicago area to Toronto for a few weeks to train with Mitch Marner.
That season, they ended up forming two-thirds of the best line in junior hockey and rolled to a Memorial Cup title.
This summer, Cliff Pu and Victor Mete spent time together — just the two of them in a few on-ice sessions — near Toronto. They both live close by, so neither had to leave home.
But the message is the same.
They could be as important to this team as Marner and Dvorak were to the 2015-16 champs.
“It would be nice to (have that same impact),” Pu, the 19-year-old from Richmond Hill, said with a grin. “It was fun. We’re good friends. We did some drills and conditioning to get ready for the season. It’s not like we were working on breakout passes and stuff.”
Mete could very well be the OHL’s best defenceman this year. If Pu can do the same up front, that should translate into Knights victories.
“Every year, you want to be the best you can be,” the Sabres prospect said, “and I’m pretty confident this year, I can be one of the top guys in the league and help this team win a lot of games. Last year was my first year in more of a scoring role (he had 35 goals and 86 points) and it was a really good learning year.
“I really needed that and think it will set me up well for this season.”
The Knights opened their exhibition slate against the Sarnia Sting Friday at Budweiser Gardens. Pu started on a line with old mate Max Jones, who has a chance to play his way onto the Anaheim Ducks this fall.
So this might have been London’s last look at this deadly duo together.
As much as Pu would like to see Jones come back, he doesn’t view their partnership as critical to the Knights’ success.
“Last year (because of injury and suspension), I played over half the season without him and I think I did pretty well,” Pu said. “He’s a great player, obviously, but neither of us count on each other to produce. It’s nice playing with him — we have that chemistry — but a lot of guys can step up on our team.
“We have a lot of good forwards and whoever I play with, I think we can do well.”
The Knights brass has been pleased with the returning cast in camp. They are particularly excited about how Swede Jesper Bratt has adapted to the smaller ice and looks like a natural Robert Thomas winger.
Connor Hicks, an overage goalie released by Flint, is still in the mix to battle Friday starter Tyler Johnson and sophomore Jordan Kooy for playing time.
But the club would feel most assured if they could pencil in Pu for 100 points. They think he can, even if he makes the Canadian team for the world juniors. The tournament is back in Buffalo, so he would attract much attention.
“Those types of things are out of your control,” he said. “I’m focused on London, then I’ll go to Buffalo and do my best there. Then, I’ll come back and have a good season. A lot of teams look good on paper. We’re pretty good on paper, too. It’s how everything meshes and if we do, we’ll have a good chance at winning again.”
London News & Search