The Kings have finally wrapped up what was arguably their toughest stretch of the season – nine games in 19 days – last weekend by winning two of three to move into a third-place tie with Brantford in the standings, with 36 points.
Coach Geoff Haddaway said that in all his years of coaching he had never seen a schedule like the one the Kings just endured, which saw them play three games per weekend over the span of three consecutive weeks.
“It’s overwhelming, both mentally and physically.”
Last weekend didn’t begin too well for the Kings, as they dropped their opening game 7-4 in Listowel Nov. 26 against the Cyclones. Yet the score isn’t indicative of the type of game that was played.
After a scoreless first period, both teams came to life in the second. Listowel struck first just 34 seconds into the period, before standout rookie Brady Campbell scored his 17th of the year for Elmira to tie the game at 10:39, from Ryan Clarkson and Brad Kraus.
A parade of penalties, however, derailed any momentum the Kings may have generated, with Listowel scoring a pair of five-on-three powerplay goals at 13:49 and 14:38 of the period to put Listowel ahead 3-1. Jarred Parent pulled the Kings to within one with a goal at 19:14 from Andrew Smith and Chris Zubac, but the damage had already been done.
“It was the second period that really killed us,” admitted Haddaway. “They had three five-on-threes and we killed one, but that’s asking an awful lot to kill five-on-threes: those should be almost automatic goals against a team that has the firepower that Listowel does.”
The Kings actually pulled ahead briefly to start the third period on goals from Wade Pfeffer at 3:52 from Josh
Woolley and Brennon Pearce, and from Lukas Baleshta on the powerplay from Spencer MacCormack at 5:37.
The Kings couldn’t hold the lead, though, surrendering a tying goal at 7:54, and falling behind for good at 15:35 on a goal from Caleb Cameron.
Haddaway pulled his goalie with just under two minutes left to try and find some last-minute magic, but to no avail. Listowel scored twice into the empty net to seal the victory.
The Kings didn’t have much time to worry about that loss, though, as they were right back at it on Saturday in Waterloo.
Despite holding the edge in play, the Kings failed to score in the opening period once again, which Haddaway said could start wearing on the players.
“It’s a matter of convincing your guys ‘OK, we’re doing good things, keep it up.’ And lets be honest, the guys equate good things with a lead on the scoreboard. It’s very tough to convince a team that is in a 0-0 game that they’re playing well,” Haddaway said.
In the second, the Kings continued their dominant play and outshot the Siskins 19-10, and were rewarded with a pair of goals, the first at 5:09 by Andrew Smith from MacCormack and Baleshta, and the second from Woolley on the powerplay at 8:27 from Wade Pfeffer and Campbell.
In the third, however, the Kings let the lead slip away once again. Waterloo scored just 59 seconds into the period from Kevin Billings on the powerplay, and tied it up at 16:57 with another powerplay goal. Suddenly, despite holding a decisive edge in shots and play for much of the night, the Kings were tied with only three minutes to go in the visitors building.
For great teams, that is where leadership steps up and takes control. And that’s precisely what veteran Shane Smith did. Just 36 seconds after Waterloo potted the tying goal, Smith scored his third of the season from two other veteran leaders on the team – Baleshta and Andrew Smith – to regain the lead.
Andrew Smith would then go on to score the empty net insurance goal at 19:28 to make it a 4-2 final.
“I just tipped my cap to them after that,” the coach said. “I told the guys I was proud of them after the game; I think it showed a lot of character.”
The Kings certainly needed that confidence heading into Sunday night’s game at home against the Brantford Golden Eagles, winners of 11 straight games heading into their matchup at the WMC, which had given them a two-point lead over Elmira in the standings.
The first period was not kind to the Kings, however, as they trailed 3-2 heading into the dressing room. The low point of the period came at 15:16 while the Kings were on the powerplay. Brantford’s Dave Lazarus broke up an Elmira pass at his own blue line, but the puck got away from him and headed down towards Kings goalie Matt Smith. Smith won the race for the puck just inside the line, but shot it directly into Lazarus’ chest. Lazarus corralled the puck and skated it into the wide open cage, making it a 3-1 game.
The goal silenced the stunned crowd at the WMC, and could have marked the beginning of the end for the Kings and sent Brantford towards their 12th consecutive win. But the Kings wouldn’t allow it.
Andrew Smith pulled the Kings to within one on the powerplay at 18:24, giving renewed life to his teammates and giving the fans at the Dan Snyder Arena a reason to cheer again.
The teams traded goals in the second period, and the Kings entered the third period down 4-3.
“It’s the third period of the third game in a row for the third weekend in a row against a team that’s won 11 in a row. This is nothing more than gut-check time,” said Haddaway.
Cass Frey scored his second of the season at 6:19 after some tremendous work by Woolley and Campbell along the boards on the forecheck. Woolley made a perfect tape-to-tape pass to Frey from behind the net, tying it up at four.
Brantford retook the lead at 8:06, but much like the Waterloo game the night before, the Kings stepped up and didn’t let that late goal faze them. Clarkson tied the game once again from Josh MacDonald and Campbell just over a minute after the Brantford goal, and MacCormack gave the Kings the lead for good at 14:47 from Baleshta and Parent.
At the final buzzer, it was 6-5 for the home team.
Haddaway said the team leaders have really stepped up over the past three weeks, and helped to carry the team through this particularly difficult section of the schedule.
“Our guys are taking more and more ownership of those things on the bench.”
After a tough stretch, the Kings followed up with a 4-3 loss to Thorold on Wednesday night. They return to the ice tomorrow (Sunday) to face the Cambridge Winter Hawks. Game time is 7 p.m.