The Kings continue to keep pace with the rest of the Midwestern Conference leaders after splitting their past two games, a 5-4 home loss to the Listowel Cyclones last Sunday, and a convincing 5-0 road win over the Kitchener Dutchmen on Tuesday night.
As of Thursday, Elmira is tied with Brantford for third in the conference with 40 points, nine behind conference-leading Stratford who have two games in hand over the Kings.
Sunday’s afternoon tilt against the Cyclones was the first game in a week for the Kings, and they showed some rust out of the gate. Matt Smith got the start in net, and was sharp early on as he made a big shoulder save just 15 seconds into the first, and was forced to make a series of big saves just moments later after a turnover by Brady Campbell in the slot.
Listowel eventually cracked Smith 7:01 into the first on the powerplay. The Kings keeper made the initial save on a Bobby Cook shot, but the puck went right to Caleb Cameron who made it 1-0 on an easy tap-in.
Elmira actually outshot Listowel 15-10 in the period, but couldn’t generate much offence.
“We started pretty slowly,” admitted head coach Geoff Haddaway, “but I thought from about the 10-minute mark of the first to about halfway through the second, I thought we played a really strong 20 minutes.”
Elmira did get on the score sheet just 0:55 into the second period on Baleshta’s 13th of the season from Andrew Smith and Spencer MacCormack. The goal drew a thunderous cheer from the fans, as hundreds of teddy bears rained down onto the ice as part of the Kings teddy bear toss. The game had to be paused for about five minutes as members of the girls Woolwich minor hockey picked up the bears and loaded them into the back of a pickup truck.
The pause in play didn’t seem to affect the Kings too much, as Jarred Parent gave the Kings the lead at 4:11 on a nice tip. Josh Woolley won the draw to the right of the Listowel keeper, and Parent tipped the Cory Genovese point shot over the goalie’s blocking arm.
The Kings, however, got into penalty trouble after that goal, which sucked some of the life from their game. They surrendered a powerplay goal at 6:14, an even strength goal at 10:33, and another powerplay goal at 19:15 to head into the dressing room down 4-2.
Haddaway said that the second period was the turning point in the game for them.
“We lacked urgency, we lacked intensity, and in hindsight you just hope it’s one of those games.”
The teams traded goals in the third, with MacCormack making it 4-3 with his 9th goal of the year from Colton Wolfe-Sabo and Baleshta, before Bobby Cook scored his second goal and fourth point of the night into the empty net at 18:44 to kill any hopes of a comeback.
On Tuesday night the Kings paid a visit to Kitchener for a fourth match against the Dutchmen this season – Kitchener having won the previous two meetings. Before the game even started Haddaway admits to having some concern over the outcome – he was missing Woolley, Brennon Pearce, Brad Kraus and Devon Wagner, forcing the team to call up Justin Roeder from Wellesley.
Those concerns were put to rest quickly, thanks to Andrew Smith who provided some early offence by scoring 7:02 into the first period from Baleshta and MacCormack. That trio would combine again just 1:53 into the second when Smith scored on the powerplay from MacCormack and Baleshta.
“It just seems like you have those games throughout the year where you go ‘oh it might be stacked up against us here,’ but it was a 60 minute effort. It was guys competing from the opening faceoff to the final buzzer,” said Haddaway of his team’s effort.
Josh MacDonald also had an outstanding second half to the game as he potted the natural hat-trick by scoring three unanswered goals to put the game away. His first came at 8:19 of the second period from Ryan Clarkson and Genovese, his second at 16:59 of the second from Brady Campbell and Chris Zubac, and his third to cap off the night at 10:40 of the third from Clarkson and Baleshta.
Nick Horrigan was solid in net, stopping all 33 shots he faced for his third shutout of the season, and second against Kitchener. His first came in the season opener, a 3-0 win over the Dutchmen at home on Sept. 12.
The Kings face the Cyclones on Friday night before returning home Sunday afternoon to take on Guelph, where the Hurricanes will be looking to avenge a 5-3 loss to the Kings when the two teams last met on Nov. 13. The puck drops at 2 p.m. Following the game, kids will have a chance to skate with the team, and players will be signing autographs.