If the league decided to scrap the second period and move straight to the third, that might be just fine with the Sugar Kings.
Last weekend the Kings were outscored 6-0 and outshot 29-22 in the second periods of their two games, a 4-3 overtime win against the Stratford Cullitons on Sept. 17 and their 5-2 loss to the Guelph Hurricanes on Sunday.
Elmira got off to a quick start in their first road game of the season against Stratford, with Brad Kraus scoring 89 seconds into the game on the power play. Shane Smith scored with 26 seconds left in the frame.
“I think we just went out and played our game and established our identity,” said head coach Geoff Haddaway of his team’s strong start.
The second period was scoreless until the 15:04 mark when Stratford’s Chett Binning scored a short-handed goal after a shot was blocked at the point, leading to a two-on-one the other way. Stratford followed it up with two more quick goals at 17:27 and 19:05 from Mitch McCrank and Tyler Masson.
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Early in the third, however, the Kings rallied. After a couple of hard shifts to start the period, Devon Wagner tied it up at 3:10, assisted by Zach Salomon, with a shot from a bad angle that found its way to the back of the net.
“We started off the third period pretty strongly and Devon got rewarded for hard work by all of our players,” said Haddaway.
The game went into overtime, with Kraus ending it just over a minute into the extra frame with his second goal of the game, a perfect shot into the top corner and nearly identical to his goal in the first.
“It was a goal-scorer’s goal,” said Haddaway. “Brad’s got such an incredible release, that even though goalies know its coming, he can often beat them.”
The Kings were forced to play most of the game without their captain, Josh Woolley, who received a game misconduct for checking from behind with under a minute left in the first period. In goal, Nick Horrigan picked up his second win of the season, stopping 37 of 40 shots.
On Sunday, the Kings second-period troubles returned, with a different outcome, however.
Prior to the game, the Kings paid tribute to three team directors who passed away during the summer, Bob Waters, Don Nearingburgh, and Joe Beer, and their families were welcomed to stand at centre-ice for a moment of silence.
After skating to a scoreless draw in the first period – a period dominated by the Kings as they outshot Guelph 15-8 – it was Guelph who broke through with three unanswered goals in the second, two of them on the power play, by Matt Hill, Brandon Stewart, and Jake Weidner.
Haddaway, however, doesn’t think the period was as bad as it might appear on the score sheet. A combination of bad penalties by Elmira, and good puck movement by the Hurricanes, led to the goals. The home team took seven penalties in the frame, including one for unsportsmanlike conduct as well as a 10-minute misconduct for inciting an opponent.
“We took a couple penalties that we’re going to have to avoid taking, and a good team like Guelph has a lot of firepower.”
Haddaway suggested his players need to play on the edge to be effective, but that players need to learn to control their emotions a little better in those tense situations. At one point the Kings had three players in the box, and the crowd began to shout their displeasure with the referees.
“It’s easy for me on the bench to say ‘calm down and show discipline’ – there’s no question that is something we have to work on,” he said.
In the third period, Guelph’s Erik Belanger knocked home a loose puck on what initially appeared to be a broken play at 1:22, and Mark Bell made it 5-0 by scoring shorthanded at 13:17.
That makes it two games in a row that Elmira has surrendered a short-handed goal, a point that Haddaway says isn’t a cause for concern – yet.
“If we’re getting scored on every single game short-handed, then I’ll start to be concerned about it, but I don’t think you’ll be seeing that on a regular basis.”
Elmira did show some life towards the end of the game. Brady Campbell scored on a breakaway at 17:37, tucking the puck under the right pad of the Hurricanes goaltender Talon D’Orazio, before crashing into the net. Lukas Baleshta and Josh MacDonald collected the assists.
MacDonald followed up the next shift with a perfect shot over D’Orazio’s right shoulder to the top corner, assisted by Baleshta and Tyler Snyder.
Recently-acquired goaltender Matthew Smith got the start for the Kings, and made 24 saves on the night. Haddaway said Smith, who played for the University of Guelph last year, will compete with Nick Horrigan for the starting goalie position. They will alternate starts for the foreseeable future.
“We’re going to let that body of work determine who becomes our number-one goalie […] and the only way that happens is if they push each other and both get to play.”
The Kings have a busy weekend ahead of them. They are in Waterloo tonight to take on the Siskins at 7:30, and play host to Leamington Sunday at 7 p.m.