London, Ontario, will regain a sense of normalcy on Friday night when the city’s OHL team returns to the regular season.
The London Knights will face the Owen Sound Attack in what marks their first regular season game since March 8, 2020, a wait that generated much anticipation in Forest City.
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Rob Matic, along with 4,500 other Knights fans, will have a seat at Budweiser Gardens when the puck drops at 7:30 p.m.
“There is only an aura of excitement around the fandom. We can’t wait, ”said the longtime Knights fan.
Matic says he’s particularly curious about what the team will look like after 19 months without playing in the regular season.
“When it comes to younger hockey players … part of the fun is seeing who’s going to break that lineup next year,” Matic said.
“Because we lost that year, it’s doubly fun now, and you just spend more time researching who these guys are.”
Downtown businesses have also long been waiting for the return of the Knights and the crowds they bring to Budweiser Gardens.
“Friday night used to be the night, no matter what, that … every building around and every restaurant, everyone would be full,” said Mark McGonigle, manager of FitzRay’s Restaurant and Lounge.
“London Ontario is a hockey town, so people expect that kind of thing. You can see, we saw that Dale Hunter and his friends were here Friday night, and it looked like they were having fun after the (preseason) game. “
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While Friday will bring a much-needed business boost, Covent Garden Market CEO and CEO Bob Usher says things are already looking up.
“Even with preseason games and it has certainly done us good, and the street is very happy that they are back,” Usher said.
“I may not be as busy as I used to be, but you know what? I can tell you that our tenants and restaurateurs that I know in the area, they just say, ‘Ugh, isn’t that nice?’ ”.
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Friday’s season opener was also a long time coming for Knights forward Luke Evangelista, who was out of play during the preseason after sustaining an injury on training ground.
“It was definitely frustrating … I waited so long to play OHL hockey, to play in London again,” Evangelista told Global News.
“Fortunately, I had a very good recovery, I was working with our coach Matt Bogart every day, improving that injury and I am not going to miss any games of the regular season.”
“I think I can speak for the whole team when I say this, but I think everyone is very excited to be back.”
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