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Kings split pair to open the new season

The Elmira Sugar Kings put on a show for the 1,300 fans that piled into the Dan Snyder Memorial Arena for last Sunday’s home opener, but some unlucky bounces sent the team and fans home without a win.

The visiting Waterloo Siskins claimed a 5-3 victory, helped by three goals that deflected off Sugar Kings players and into the net.

Ryan Johnston looks for a pass as a Waterloo defender approaches. Johnston had two assists in the Kings’ 5-3 loss in the home-opener Sept. 13 at the Dan Snyder Memorial Arena.
Ryan Johnston looks for a pass as a Waterloo defender approaches. Johnston had two assists in the Kings’ 5-3 loss in the home-opener Sept. 13 at the Dan Snyder Memorial Arena.

“In a rink full of Elmira fans, it would have been nice to come away with two points,” said head coach Geoff Haddaway.

That said, Haddaway was impressed with his team’s effort against the Siskins, who have been pegged as one of the teams to beat this season.

The Siskins have their three top scorers back, as well as goalies Colin Breen and Will Sibley, both of whom posted a save percentage above .900 last season. With the addition of players like Alex Lubczuk and Tony Blyde from the Kitchener Dutchmen, the Siskins are poised to make a run at the Sutherland Cup.

“That’s the best team in the league,” Haddaway said. “I thought we competed hard with them; just near the end, we ran out of steam.”

The Siskins took a two-goal lead in the first period, courtesy of a marker from Colton Wolfe-Sabo and a power play goal by Eric Jackson.

With five minutes remaining, Waterloo picked up two penalties a few seconds apart, handing Elmira a five-on-three opportunity. The Kings were quick to capitalize; Paul Thompson scored the first goal for the home side on a feed from Ryan Johnston and Jon Jutzi. A minute later, Tyson LeBlanc (Shane Smith, Michael Therrien) tied things up with a second power play goal.

The Siskins regained their lead 2:42 into the second period when Steve Collins found the mesh behind keeper Matt Smith. The lead was short-lived as the Kings tied things up again on a power play goal from Andrew Smith (Johnston, Thompson.)

With five minutes left in the second frame, Blyde (Tanner Pearson) wheeled around the corner of the net and slipped the puck in to make it 4-3 for the Siskins.

In the third period, Elmira’s energy was flagging and they scrambled to keep up with Waterloo. After outshooting the Siskins 28 to 18 in the first two periods, the Kings managed only five shots in the third frame.

Rob Hellyer capped the win for the Siskins at 8:11, firing a shot that bounced off a defenceman’s foot and into the Kings’ net, making the final score 5-3.

Noting that he was victim to some unlucky bounces, Haddaway praised Smith’s performance between the pipes.

“Matt gives us a chance,” he said. “In fact, both our goalies are going to give us a chance this year. Our players are already so confident in both our goalies that it’s going to make a world of difference as we move throughout the season.”

Smith himself was happy with the way the team played and wasn’t about to beat himself up over the loss.

“That’s the way the breaks go sometimes,” he said. “I was impressed how we battled back from the two-goal deficit in the first, and I thought we worked really hard to get that back. … It’s tough when you’re down against a good team like that to come back that many times.

“We died off a little bit in the third, but the first two periods I thought we played really well and we were the better team.”

Sunday’s loss followed a 6-2 win over the Guelph Hurricanes in the season-opener Saturday.

Tyler Kuntz notched the first goal for the Kings, shorthanded on an assist from Jutzi.

In the second period, the Kings widened their lead to five, with unanswered goals from Andrew Smith, Therrien, Riley Sonnenburg and Brennon Pearce.

Guelph finally got on the board with four seconds left in the period, with Luca Penzo notching the point. The Hurricanes made it two with a shorthanded goal by Dan Mohle.

LeBlanc capped the win for the Kings with three minutes remaining, sliding the puck into the Hurricanes’ empty net.

Haddaway said his team will be working on conditioning over the next few weeks, so they can play a full 60 minutes two nights in a row.

“We’ve only had three practices together as one team,” he said. “We’ll get better each and every week, we’ll execute our systems a little bit better, our conditioning will get better, so every time we step on the ice we should see an improvement.”

On Friday, the Kings headed to Waterloo for the Siskins’ home opener, and Matt Smith was looking forward to the rematch.

“It couldn’t be better,” he said. “We lost on our home rink in our home opener, and we have a chance to get revenge on them in their rink. It’s kind of like a playoff series … now we get a chance to redeem ourselves.”

After visiting Waterloo Sept. 18, the Kings are back at home tomorrow night (Sunday) to take on the Kitchener Dutchmen. The puck drops at 7 p.m.

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