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Comeback Kings make it three for three

The Elmira Sugar Kings have something to smile about as they go into the Christmas holiday: the team won all three of their games last week. First they went on the road to beat Kitchener 5-0, and then trumped the Listowel Cyclones in their own barn 8-4, before making a major comeback to beat the Guelph Hurricanes 6-5 in overtime.

The winning streak has left the Kings in second place in third place in the Midwestern Conference of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League.

Tuesday night, Dec. 14, in Kitchener saw great performances by Andrew Smith, who started the game off with two goals, Josh MacDonald, who registered a natural hat-trick, scoring the Kings’ last three goals of the game, and Nick Horrigan, who stopped all 33 of the shots he faced for his third shutout of the season.

Throughout the game Elmira played hard and jumped on the chances they got. The powerplay as clicking, scoring three times on eight chances.

The game three days later versus Listowel was a wild one, with 12 goals scored between both teams, but Elmira’s firepower was too much for the Cyclones. With an explosive first period that saw four Elmira goals, two by player of the game Spencer MacCormack, who had four goals and an assist at the end of 60 minutes.

IN TIGHT FROM THE BEGINNING Josh Woolley prepares to check Guelph’s Tim Halloran into the end boards during the Dec. 19 match at the WMC.

With Elmira enjoying such a large lead heading out of the first period, Listowel couldn’t catch up. They traded a few goals in the second period before Elmira went five up with MacCormack fourth goal of the night to leave the second period 7-2.

The Kings played well both on even strength and with the man advantage, scoring four of their goals on the powerplay.

“Listowel has beaten us the last couple of times – once in their rink and once in our rink – so for us to go up there and get two points was important for us, for our team psyche,” said coach Geoff Haddaway of the win.

The Kings’ last game before the break on Dec. 19 was one for the fans. The hometown team pulled off an electric comeback from a 5-1 deficit to win in spectacular fashion in overtime, 6-5, against the Guelph Hurricanes.

“From the audience’s perspective it was exciting for sure,” said Haddaway. “It was probably the best and worst of Junior B hockey all in one game.”

The win gave the players and the nearly 900 fans in attendance something to cheer about as they headed off into the holidays, talking excitedly about hero performances from Nick Horrigan, who kept the door shut in net for the last two periods, saving 30 of 32 shots fired at him, and Spencer MacCormack, who not only provided the game-tying goal, but also the game-winner on a breakaway in overtime.

The first period was dominated by Guelph. The Hurricanes capitalized on their scoring opportunities, Elmira’s giveaways, and some favourable bounces. Within the first 14 minutes of play, Guelph scored five goals, in all types of ways: one on the powerplay, two short-handed goals, and two at even strength.

Being down four goals this early in the game, and with Elmira playing on their heels, it seemed like defeat was inevitable.

“We thought it was important to get off to a good start but the things we focused on on Friday just weren’t working on Sunday,” said Haddaway. “We made the goalie change in the first period and it’s a little unfair to make a goalie change that early. I am not blaming Matt Smith at all, even though it looks like I am. You have to do that for the sake of the team, just to express the urgency of the situation.”

A spark of hope of a comeback ignited with four minutes left in the first period, with Jarred Parent’s even strength goal which put some needed wind back into Elmira’s sails. A very active first period left Elmira with a big hole to fill, down 5-2.

“If we won the second period, I thought me might have a chance,” said the coach. “I thought as the game went on, Guelph might tire a bit – it was their third game in less than three days.”

The second period saw a much stronger home team determined to make a game out of this one-sided battle. With great pressure throughout the period, throwing 16 shots on net, they were able to close the gap by two more goals courtesy of Andrew Smith and Josh Woolley, bringing them within one with 20 minutes to go.

The Kings took no time to tie it up in the third frame, with a powerplay goal by MacCormack making it 5-5. With lots of scoring opportunities at both ends, the goalies kept the door shut. Regulation time ended with the score still deadlocked.

The overtime was just as exciting, as there was plenty of open ice with just four skaters aside. Eventually, a setup pass from Woolley to a streaking MacCormack gave him a clear-cut breakaway. With a great move to get the goalie to duck down, his backhand shot that went top-shelf capped the comeback story.

“You don’t see Josh (Woolley)’s name on  the scoreboard as much – probably not as much as he would like – but he plays such a valuable role for us,” said the coach, noting that Sunday’s game was the product of a solid team effort.

“We have made up a little bit of ground in the standings but it’s tough. In our league, things are competitive and teams are playing three-point games. With all these teams pushing it to overtime, it is tough to gain much ground but all you can do is worry about yourselves – how we play and what we do and the rest will take care of itself.”

The Kings are taking a short break for the Christmas holiday and will play again on home ice Jan. 2 against Owen Sound. The puck drops at 7 p.m.

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