London Knights: Tyler Parsons takes lessons to Calgary Flames rookie camp

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Few players in Knights history seized their opportunity quite like Michael Houser.

By the time he departed London in 2012, he was the OHL’s MVP and junior hockey’s best netminder, back-stopping his team to one goal shy of a Memorial Cup title. You immediately were left with the sense it would be a long time before you saw someone will himself to greatness like that again.

Just two years later, Tyler Parsons showed up.

He had nearly an identical back-story to Houser — overlooked, undrafted American who arrived at a time of great crease need for the franchise.

The Hunters never give a green rookie the first start of the playoffs, but they relented for Parsons. He won the Memorial Cup in overtime a year later, added world junior gold in a shootout against Canada in Montreal, then finished his Knights career with one of the finest individual playoff performances in league annals.

The league champ Erie Otters were at their wits’ end trying to beat him last spring.

“There’s only two ways I wanted to go out — like that, or winning the championship again,” said Parsons, reflecting on his three years in London this week. “To go down in a fight like that and show I’ll be there when my team needs it, that was good for me. It’s good for any goaltender, especially at such a young age, to experience that. I think Calgary will see that I can be the backbone of a team and help build confidence.

“Some of those games, especially that last one in Game 7 against Erie, there was a lot of rubber (a career-high 58 saves). You lose, but you look back it, and you learn from it.”

Parsons stopped by London Friday for a visit. But by the time the Knights check into training camp Monday, he will be in Toronto, serving as the Flames’ appointed prospect at the NHLPA’s annual rookie showcase event. It will finally sink in at Budweiser Gardens that he’s no longer around to save the day.

“It sucks to leave London, but you’ve got to move on and start that new chapter in your life,” said the Michigan native, who turns 20 next month. “London’s my second home. I’m thinking of getting a place there next summer. I can’t say enough about the fans and it’s an amazing city. Being a university town, you get to experience a bit of that college life while you’re playing junior.

“Picking to sign there as a free agent was the right choice and I can’t thank the Hunters, the whole organization, enough. You move on but know London’s always there and you can always come back to visit.”

You need special performances by determined and talented people to make a hockey season worth remembering.

No one is expecting Parsons’ successors, Tyler Johnson and Jordan Kooy, to accomplish what he did. But he is confident the tandem will allow London to keep winning games.

“I believe in them,” Parsons said. “I think they can take over the throne. They have to push each other, work hard every day, compete and be good teammates. The Hunters expect a lot of you. Even when you’re not playing, you have to show them you want to be there every day. There will be those times you’re the hardest worker in practice, then go into the game and not play very good.

“That’s when you have to show (the organization) you’re there for the right reasons. I have faith in them, they have good coaches and I’m excited to see what they do.”

There won’t be many players left over from the Memorial Cup win of ’16. But Parsons said the returning players will have matured considerably from the intensity of living two straight seven-game playoff series.

“Last year, looking back, was a good year,” he said. “It had a little bit of everything — little slumps, high, lows, frustration. We ended up on a good run at the end. Look at the Memorial Cup final — we ended up playing Windsor and Erie, the two teams in the championship game.

“Beating out Windsor was big for our organization and going to a Game 7, and overtime, against Erie, it was pretty wild. A lot of the young guys learned a lot because of how wavy the season turned out to be.”

Most of the NHL’s goalies are giant, fill-the-net monsters these days. Parsons isn’t that, but his athleticism and ability to battle on every shot intrigue the Flames.

He has been training at home in Michigan this summer. He heads to Calgary for rookie camp Sept. 6, then main camp after, and “figure out where I’m going, then go there,” he said. He isn’t interested in massive changes to his style.

“As a goalie, when you make that pro jump, there’s that over-think factor,” he said. “But really, you’ve got to play your same game and just tighten up some areas. No one’s ever good enough. Just do your best, and remember less is more.

“Any pro goalies, they only go in the splits when necessary and the areas they’re good at, they only use those when they have to.

“It’s a simple game.”

Made easier, of course, with a guy like him in net.

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