Knights of London chain of trust for recruits extends to Stuart Rolofs

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Every now and then, Stuart Rolofs will ask Luke Evangelista how he handled his scoreless rookie season with the Knights last year.

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Discouragement, Rolofs was told, does not last forever.

“He’s helped me a lot this year,” said Rolofs, London’s first round pick (20th overall) in 2019, ahead of Tuesday’s game in Kitchener. “I asked him a ton of things –– how he did it and what he did to keep it going. He gives me some little advice and basically says this year is all about learning. These are not your statistics. These will come in the years that will follow.

The chain of trust continued.

Stuart Rolofs of the Knights.  Photo file
Stuart Rolofs of the Knights. Photo file

Evangelista held his head high because he knew Connor McMichael experienced similar difficulties during his first OHL campaign and had a long discussion with him.

McMichael quickly became an NHL first-round pick by Washington last year. This time around, Evangelista’s solid two-way play with the Knights placed him in a position to assess a first- or second-round selection in Montreal in June.

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Rolofs knows his time will come too.

“I’m having a lot of fun,” said the 16-year-old from Carp, Ont. “I learned a lot of things that I didn’t think I would learn. This year is all about development and I really feel like I have developed a lot this year. When (Liam Foudy and McMichael) went to the world junior championships, I thought I had stepped up my progress and it really helped me to have confidence in myself to play more and gain more opportunities.

There were some defining moments. Rolofs’ first two points came in a loss to North Bay on December 19. He added another assist to Flint on Jan.4.

Luke Evangelista trains with the London Knights at the Western Fair Sports Center.  Photo file
Luke Evangelista trains with the London Knights at the Western Fair Sports Center. Photo file

He earned a respectable plus-2 rating and that responsible defensive approach (he hasn’t been a minus since Dec. 10 in Kitchener) gave him the chance to dress up at Aud Tuesday – another exciting prospect .

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“These are the games that you want to soak up and watch what all the best guys are doing,” he said. “These are the most important games of the year and must-see games for us.”

He and his buddies played like it was a big game too, early on.

London dominated the first period against Rangers, accumulating three goals – including an Evangelista shortie and a Ryan Merkley special – to put down a large crowd.

The Knights’ best penalty kill was also perfect in the first.

Of course, one of the first lessons Rolofs learned is that every time Knights dress they are meant to win. Youth, inexperience or injury are no excuses.

“There’s a lot more pressure to win at this level, especially in an organization like this,” said the 6-1 / 1, 195-pound winger. “They expect you to win if you play against the best team in the league or the worst. There is a lot more attention to detail. We have to watch so many videos and this is how we take advantage of other teams, and this is how we ultimately beat them.

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“Paying attention to the little things when I watched games on TV, I don’t think I’ve ever done that. This is what Dale (Hunter) and the other coaches teach us to do and I have watched it that way now.

He must learn to be a pro while taking care of the daily responsibilities of teenage life.

“The school is completely different (at Blyth Academy),” he said. “The days are shorter (to adapt to the practice of the afternoon). When we are at the rink you are working on your own skills and competing against the best guys in combat drills.

“It really helped.”

And the level of comfort increases while being surrounded by a core of first and second year players eager to make their mark.

“This is the future of the Knights,” Rolofs said. “I hope we can keep pushing and next year and the year after we have opportunities. Then we can take advantage of it. “

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AROUND THE RINK : Merkley’s first-period goal earned him a career-best 15 in his fourth season. He had 14 split between Guelph and Peterborough last season. . . Kitchener played without suspended captain Greg Meireles, rugged D-man Arber Xhekaj and injured forwards Reid Valade and Isaac Langdon. The missing depth created a gap to be exploited for London’s third line consisting of Nathan Dunkley, Evangelista and Antonio Stranges. . . Hamilton fired first-year head coach Vince Laise following a four-game losing streak. Managing Director Steve Staios will take over on an interim basis. The Bulldogs play Thursday in Peterborough. . . Rolofs figured Shane Wright of the Kingston Frontenacs would put on a show in his outstanding OHL debut season. “But I didn’t expect him to do so well,” he said. “This line he’s on, they’re basically this whole team (for offense).”

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