After pummeling Owen Sound 8-2 Jan. 11, the Elmira Sugar Kings staged a gutsy comeback against the Kitchener Dutchmen Tuesday night, only to lose 5-4 in a shootout.
Down 4-2 midway through the third period, the Kings killed a five-minute penalty, then proceeded to score with two minutes left and again in the last 13 seconds to tie things up.
“I think the guys believed that we were capable of coming back,” said coach Geoff Haddaway. “We kept our noses to the grindstone as they say, and we were rewarded a little bit.”
The Kings added another point to the pair they picked up downing Owen Sound on Sunday. The Greys, currently scraping the bottom of the league with 14 points, managed a listless 20 shots to the Kings’ 53.
The Kings outshot the Greys 19 to five in the first period but couldn’t get anything past Greys’ netminder Talon D’Orazio, and the period ended 0-0.
“A lot of people who weren’t at the game were saying to me, ‘well geez you really outshot them in the first and it was only 0-0, were you worried?’” Haddaway said. “I said no, not really, because I thought we controlled the play and we were also four days without being on the ice. Guys are used to being on the ice a lot and then you give them a big break; it takes a while to get the rust out. I thought it was a matter of time, and it proved to be true.”
Elmira ended the scoring drought 1:27 into the second, when Tyler Kuntz wheeled around the net and fired the puck in.
A few minutes later, Owen Sound was handed two penalties in quick succession, creating a five-on-three opportunity. Josh Ranalli took advantage first, blasting a slapshot into the back of the net. Brent Freeman followed it up with a second power play goal 13 seconds later.
Kyle McNeil made it 4-0 at 7:47, hammering a rebound back into the net.
Owen Sound got their first goal of the game near the end of the second frame, when Trent Brown slipped in front of the Kings net and the Greys’ Zac Seiling knocked the loose puck in.
Scoring in the third period was a repeat of the second, as the Kings notched another four points to the Greys’ one.
Forty-five seconds in, Brown let fly with a slapshot from the point, which Kuntz deflected into the net. Ranalli carried the puck in for his second goal of the game at the five-minute mark.
The Greys managed another goal at 7:24, with Matt Eckert getting past keeper Jake Williams.
But Elmira wasn’t finished yet; Ranalli neatly slipped the puck past D’Orazio to complete a hat trick. A few minutes later, Kuntz followed suit with another goal and a hat trick of his own.
At first, Tuesday’s opening frame looked like a repeat of Sunday; the game went scoreless through most of the period, with the Kings unable to capitalize on four power play opportunities. With a little over two minutes left, Kitchener’s Matt Murphy found the mesh to put the Dutchmen on the board.
The Dutchmen made it a two-goal lead early in the second, with Tony Blyde banging one past Elmira goalkeeper Brandon Wysman.
The Kings got on the board a minute and a half later, when Brent Freeman beat keeper Matt Smith, with Ranalli and McNeil logging assists. The period ended with Elmira still down 2-1.
A minute into the third, Philip Teri was sent to the box for unsportsmanlike conduct and Kitchener took advantage, scoring on the power play.
The Kings narrowed the lead at 8:32, when Jarred Parent (Zach Salomon, Nic MacEachern) hammered the puck in. But less than 30 seconds later, Todd Martin made it 4-2 for the Dutchmen.
With eight minutes left in the game, Kuntz was handed a five-minute penalty for charging. The Kings killed that power play, then got an opportunity of their own with a Kitchener player in the box for tripping. McNeil (Jon Jutzi, Brown) converted on the power play, making it 4-3 with just under two minutes left.
The Kings pressed hard around Kitchener’s net and Teri (McNeil, Ranalli) notched the tying goal with 13 seconds left in regulation.
Neither team scored in five minutes of overtime, forcing a shootout. Smith locked out Brown and Ranalli, and Kitchener’s Justin Knee and Duston Hebebrand scored to clinch the win.
It’s the sixth time the Kings have gone to a shootout to decide the game, and they’ve emerged victorious only once.
“There’s two ways of looking at it,” Haddaway said. “We’ve lost some points you’d like to have, but artificially maybe there’s teams out there with extra points by means of a method that won’t happen in the playoffs … They don’t ever finish a playoff game with a four-on-four overtime or a shootout.”
“At the end of a shootout, if you lost, you kind of say to yourself, maybe I should have picked this player. But you go with the guys you know are gifted offensively and the guys you see in practice over and over score good goals. We’ve just come up short a few times.”
Kitchener keeper Matt Smith was eyed as a possible acquisition by Elmira, but the deal didn’t go through before the Jan. 11 trade deadline.
Haddaway said they talked to several teams about several players but ultimately decided they couldn’t make any changes that would upgrade the team, and they aren’t ready to throw in the towel.
“We thought we have a good team that is capable of succeeding. … I know we’re a seventh-place hockey club, but we don’t feel that we’re a seventh-place hockey club. I would have a tough time going into the room and looking guys in the face if I just gave away good players.”