Facing the two best teams in the Midwestern Conference in back-to-back games, the Sugar Kings knew they were in for a rough ride last weekend.
Opening with a 3-2 overtime loss in Waterloo Nov. 21, the Kings came home the next night to battle hard against first-place Brantford only to watch the wheels fall off in the third period in a 6-2 loss.
The weekend left Elmira in sixth place in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League with a record of 9-11-3.
Saturday’s game saw the Kings push hard against the Siskins, forcing the match into overtime. Waterloo scored first, with Tanner Pearson notching the only goal of the opening frame. But Ethan Goldberg’s goal in the second (assisted by Brad Kraus) and Michael Therrien’s early in the third had the Kings up 2-1 at that point.
Late in the third, Waterloo tied it up at 2-2 on a goal by Reuben Smith. Then, at 3:38 into OT, Andrew Csumrik sealed Elmira’s fate with the game-winner.
While Sunday’s game ended up much less close, the Kings did put up a good fight for the first two periods, earning some praise from coach Geoff Haddaway.
“They (Brantford) probably came in, looked at the standings and thought that it was going to be an easy night. The longer you can make it difficult for them, the more uptight they get when they play.”
The match began relatively slowly, with neither team able to capitalize on their power play opportunities. The first period ended scoreless.
In the second, Elmira got things rolling at 2:51 on a goal by Therrien (with assists by Riley Sonnenburg and Tyson LeBlanc). But less than a minute later, Brantford’s Mike Mazurek got his revenge with a puck that skipped past netminder Brendan Gorecki. It was a couple of minutes before Elmira regained their footing and Therrien netted another one, this time with help from Shane Smith. Once again, though, Brantford evened it up with a goal from Joe Vanni midway through the period. When the buzzer sounded, it was 2-2.
“Every time we scored, Brantford bounced back. So that is our next challenge: to be able to respond to that sort of adversity and that sort of challenge,” said Haddaway. “The first two periods, we had a pretty strong effort from everybody. Gorecki faced a lot of shots and he kept us in there so that was certainly a strong performance from him.”
By the third period, however, it seemed as though the Sugar King’s were feeling the effects of back-to-back games. The Golden Eagles scored early and often. Josh McQuade’s marker just 51 seconds in set the tone.
“They scored early in the third and it seemed to deflate us,” noted Haddaway. “There is no reason it should have deflated us but when you give up a goal early in the period it’s tough to bounce back sometimes, but that’s just looking for an excuse.”
A couple more minutes passed on the clock and then came another Brantford goal, this time from Mike Ryan. Then another from Brantford’s Kyle Steckley at 8:01. The topper came with just 31 seconds remaining, the scoreboard reading 6-2.
“I give full credit to Brantford. They are a pretty special hockey team and they were able to turn it up a notch in the third period.”
The weekend, although challenging for the team, was a benchmark, said the coach.
“We played them (Brantford and Waterloo) a couple of weeks ago and we didn’t even come close. Then we played them this weekend and I think we played five pretty good periods of hockey. It goes to show you what happens if you let your guard down for one period.”
The Kings are set to play the two again in back-to-back games in a couple weeks, a challenge Haddaway said the team is up to.
“The schedule maker really put it to us this year, but I think we are getting closer and closer to competing well with these teams. I am looking forward to it.”
The Kings play host to the Guelph Hurricanes tomorrow night (Sunday). Game time is 7 p.m.