Having held the top spot in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Midwestern Conference thus far in the season, the Kings fell to third last weekend. A 6-2 loss Sunday at the Dan Snyder Memorial Arena to the team nipping at their heels, the Stratford Cullitons, saw to that.
Stratford improved to 19-2-0, two points ahead of second-place Brantford (17-2-2) and three up on the now third-place Kings (17-4-1). Elmira lost its first-place spot when Stratford moved ahead by defeating Cambridge Nov. 11.
The Kings seemed tense when they took to the ice and were easily dominated by the Cullitons. Less than five minutes into the first period Stratford forward Andrew Barton broke down the ice and easily slipped the rubber past netminder Nick Horrigan, scoring his first of two for the night.
The Kings would find themselves fighting penalties more than the Cullitons for the rest of the night but were able to score a shorthanded goal by Riley Sonnenburg at 7:21 when he beat Cullitons’ goalie Jesse Raymond with a nice chip over his left shoulder to tie the game. Undeterred, Stratford would score two more goals in the period. Elmira answered back with one at 18:24 by Michael Hasson to finish the period 3-2 in Stratford’s favour.
But that was it for the home team’s scoring for the rest of the night.
Stratford, on the other hand, kept rolling along. Barton needed just 39 seconds into the middle frame to put his team up 4-2, converting a beautiful pass from forward Pat Looby to beat Horrigan with a wrist shot. Stratford’s Ray Huether got his second of the night at 12:56 to make it 5-2 after 40 minutes.
Hitting the ice for the third period the Kings looked lost as Stratford took control en route to a sixth goal (Looby) and the win.
Horrigan stopped 28 of the 34 shots he faced. His Stratford counterpart stopped 36 of 38.
The Kings didn’t bring their best game and paid a heavy price, a lesson coach Dean DeSilva hopes isn’t lost on a team that lacked discipline, especially from its veteran players.
“They came into the game pretty tight. This was a big game and the guys were almost too up for it and then we got into to some penalty trouble and it just fell apart from there – the wheels fell off. When they don’t want to stick together as a team they are going to lose,” said DeSilva. “It has been the same story for each one of our losses. They have a choice they can play to the system and as a team, which works because when they do follow it we win. They did it in the beginning of the season when we were 14-0 or they can play as individuals and lose games like the last two.”
DeSilva felt his older, more experienced players were not up to the task.
“I thought our 20 year olds were our worst players and our rookies were our best players. I thought that Devon Wagner, Cash Seraphim and Pat McKelvie were our best line tonight and the guys that should be our best players were by far our worse tonight and it was an embarrassment to how they played.”
The Kings clocked an overall 50 minutes in the penalty box, allowing Stratford some excellent chances: they were able to cash in on three of those power plays.
“The team took a lot of penalties and they can either decide to embarrass themselves like they did tonight or they can play the way that we know they are capable of and we know the systems will work, it is up to them they are the ones that have to go out and play we can’t put on the skates and play for them,” said DeSilva.
For Phil Westman, head coach of the Cullitons, this was a big win for his team.
“Our strategy coming into the game did not really change, we played as we always do but there is more excitement coming into Elmira because they have a good team and we knew this one would be a little more intense,” he said. “I thought this was going to be a tight game. We did get a few calls in our favour and when that happens you have to capitalize. They had a few good players take ten minute penalties and that takes their steam away and I am sure that Dean will address that to his players. Elmira is still a top team and should not be counted out.”
The Kings will be on the road for their next game as they face off against the Fort Erie Meteors on Saturday and will return home on Sunday in a rematch of the Sutherland Cup finals against the Niagara Falls Canucks.