Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Rediker glad to be back in battle

By RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

No one feels more fortunate to be playing in the OHL final than Frank Rediker.

The oft-injured, over-age London Knights defenceman remembers the sting of sitting out last year's stirring playoff run with a knee injury and pulling on his jersey for the celebratory championship photos with his teammates. It remains a bittersweet memory.

"When you get hurt and you don't play, you don't really feel like you're part of the team," the 21-year-old Sterling Heights, Mich., native said. "Last year, I hoped I could get back in the lineup, but I knew it was only a small chance, that it probably wouldn't happen and it didn't."

This year, Rediker's knee forced him to miss 14 games at mid-season and a dislocated elbow suffered March 1 in Belleville threatened the rest of his final OHL campaign.

He sat out the final month of the regular season and London's first 13 playoff games before returning last week to help the Knights sew up the Western Conference final series in five games over the Guelph Storm.

"I kept telling the guys they have to keep it going so I could get back and play," Rediker said. "This feels so much better than last year. This year, I get the chance to be a part of it and contribute."

The Knights are glad the big blue-liner is back, especially when facing a team with strong-skating forwards such as Peterborough. If London felt like Guelph's forecheck was particularly frustrating, then they better get ready for the Petes, who specialize in pinning teams in their own end.

"I'm a pretty good skater and I feel I can get to the puck pretty quickly," Rediker said. "That's what you have to do against a strong forecheck. If you don't, you'll have trouble getting the puck out."

Rediker's return also has allowed veteran Trevor Kell to move back to the forward ranks, where he becomes one of the team's top checking threats. Kell played his first game on defence in Peterborough March 2 as a replacement for Rediker.

"I thought he did a great job back there," Rediker said. "He learned pretty quickly."

Though there have been a few rough spots along the way, London's defence hasn't hurt them as much as many thought it would in the playoffs. The Knights have compensated for deficiencies in their own end with off-the-charts goaltending from Adam Dennis and clutch scoring.

London's defenders provide almost zero offence -- except for Ryan Martinelli's miracle goal to beat Guelph in Game 4 -- but they still strive to earn respect from the rest of the league with their play.

"It's a carrot we dangle in front of them," London assistant coach Jacques Beaulieu said. "Everyone knows our defence is a weak spot. No one thinks they're any good, so we tell them to go out and prove everybody wrong. We know these kids have a lot of character and they're going to work at getting better every game."

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