The Sugar Kings fans who opted for hockey over the Super Bowl were treated to a wild ride last Sunday, but without the happy ending enjoyed in New Orleans.
The Kings climbed back into the game after going down 8-1, but weren’t able to draw even and the game ended 9-5 in favour of the Cambridge Winter Hawks.
“It was one of those games where it seemed like a lot of strange things happened,” said head coach Geoff Haddaway. “It just seemed like at times it was spiraling out of control for both teams.”
The Kings collected a mittful of major and double minor penalties and spent a large part of the game trying to kill them off. Six minutes into the first period, Shane Smith sent an attacker sprawling with a big hit and was handed a five-minute major for kneeing. The penalty was a costly one: Nathan Ableson scored for Cambridge with the man advantage and Brett Priestap added a second goal just as the power play ended.
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A minute later, the Winter Hawks were up 3-0 courtesy of a goal from Matt Sones. At that point Haddaway called for a timeout, hoping to get his team back on track. The Kings were rewarded at 16:31, when Andrew Smith capitalized on the power play on a feed from Tyson LeBlanc.
“I thought we bounced back,” Haddaway said. “By the end of the period, we scored the later goal and made it 3-1 and I think our guys generally felt pretty good. Yeah, we were down 3-1, but if we could gather ourselves and play on our terms, we still had a chance.”
The second period, however, got off to a disastrous start for the home side, as the Winter Hawks scored five times in six minutes. Sones went top shelf to notch the first one just 26 seconds in, and the Kings pulled netminder Nick Horrigan.
His replacement, Brandon Gorecki, had no better fortune: at 1:10, the Winter Hawks pounced on a fumbled clear and Tanner Rutland scored their fifth goal. A minute later, Ryan Clarke made it 6-1 for Cambridge.
At the five-minute mark, Seth Horricks was handed a double minor for a high stick that caught a Cambridge player in the mouth. Sones scored another pair on the ensuing power play, putting the Winter Hawks up 8-1.
“We just couldn’t stop the bleeding, no matter what we tried,” Haddaway said. “We’d already called our time out in the first and we changed our goalies, but it didn’t seem to work, unfortunately.”
The momentum finally shifted in the second half of the period, and the Kings demonstrated that Cambridge wasn’t the only team that could rack up points in quick succession.
Elmira gave the home fans something to cheer about at 10:02, when Michael Therrien scored a power play goal with helpers from Andrew Smith and Jake Jefferies.
A minute and half later, Riley Sonnenburg stickhandled into the offensive zone, rounded the net and passed the puck to Brennon Pearce at the point. Pearce let a slapshot rip and Kody Ellis neatly deflected it into the back of the net.
At 12:42, LeBlanc went to the net and dropped a pass back to Sonnenburg, who went top shelf to make it 8-4.
“For us to go down 8-1 in our barn and claw our way back … the guys on the bench, it was their determination, their resolve. Their pride came through in that they didn’t want to get embarrassed,” Haddaway said.
The Kings picked up another high sticking double minor late in the second, and the power play carried over into the third period. They had just 10 seconds to go on the penalty kill when Cambridge found the mesh once more to make the score 9-4.
The Kings answered back less than a minute later. Therrien fired a shot on goal and the rebound went straight to Josh Woolley, who buried it. A comeback seemed not impossible, but the Kings couldn’t muster another goal before the clock ran out.
Although disappointed with the loss, Haddaway couldn’t find too much fault with the way his team played, noting that the double minor penalties were for accidental infractions, and the team was victim of some unlucky bounces.
“It’s just one of those games where it seemed like a lot of things that could go wrong did go wrong and we paid the price.”
The coach was more upset about the road game Feb. 5, when the team lost 5-1 to Stratford.
“Sunday, I thought there was a higher compete level and our guys fought to the end, whereas Friday, we threw a stinker on the board.”
After a scoreless first period, the Kings watched the Cullitons go ahead by two in the second. Ellis (Jarred Parent) scored the Kings’ lone marker early in the third, only to have Stratford power in three unanswered goals to take the win.
Last weekend’s results were especially disappointing in that the Kings hoped to pick up some points and possibly move up the standings. They’re currently tied with Stratford with 43 points, and would face Cambridge if the playoffs were starting today.
Haddaway said he isn’t concerned about the team’s ability to bounce back from the losses.
“I think it falls on the guys and the leadership in the room … it’s their room, it’s their team. I think those guys – [Jeff] Zippel, [Jon] Jutzi, Therrien and Shane Smith – they believe and we believe that they’re capable of doing that.”
The Kings host Guelph tomorrow (Sunday) at 7 p.m., then head to Kitchener on Tuesday.