After losing leading scorer Andrew Smith to a two-game suspension Dec. 16 in Stratford, the Elmira Sugar Kings leaned on a returning player to eke out a 3-2 win over the Kitchener Dutchmen last Sunday afternoon at the Dan Snyder arena.
Brad Kraus, re-acquired from the St. Thomas Stars on Dec. 12, had a goal, an assist, and drew a key penalty near the end of the game to help Elmira beat Kitchener 3-2.
“It’s good to be back. I missed the boys and the coaches and the dressing room and the rink,” said Kraus, who was a key contributor to the Kings on their Sutherland Cup run last season.
“Hockey is a lot bigger here than it is anywhere else.”
The game was closer than the head coach would have liked, but following the team’s 4-3 defeat Dec. 16 to the conference-leading Cullitons he welcomed the two points.
In the game against Stratford, Smith received a gross misconduct and a two-game suspension for shooting the puck over the glass, and the Kings have now lost all three matchups against Stratford this season by a combined score of 10-7.
“After Friday night we expected a little bit of a letdown, but full credit to Kitchener they came out and played very, very hard.”
The Kings didn’t get out to the start they envisaged against the lowly Dutchmen, who had only six wins all season heading into
Sunday’s matinee affair.
Kitchener led 1-0 after the first and extended that lead to 2-0 just under a minute into the second.
With Lukas Baleshta in the box for high sticking, the Dutchmen looked to put the game out of reach but Kraus brought the crowd at the Dan Snyder arena to its feet with a shorthanded goal at 2:51.
Brady Campbell made a long pass to Kraus to send him on a partial breakaway, and he made a quick wrist shot from the right faceoff circle count to cut Kitchener’s lead to one.
The goal gave new energy to the Kings, as they dominated the remainder of the period.
Campbell tallied the tying goal at 17:39 on the powerplay.
Baleshta made a pass from the corner to Kraus, who was parked in front of Kitchener goaltender Nathan Perry. Kraus was tied up by a defender and the puck sat in the blue ice until Campbell swept in and fired it top corner.
In the third period, Perry stood tall as Elmira again held the decisive edge in play, outshooting their opponents 14-4, but they couldn’t get one past the Dutchmen goaltender.
Just before the halfway mark of the third period, however, Kraus shifted the period with what he does best: throwing a big bodycheck. He hit Kitchener enforcer Brock Campbell into the boards with a clean shoulder check that Campbell took exception to. The Dutchmen forward was slow to get up and skated after Kraus to try and entice him to fight, going as far as crosschecking Kraus in the back of the head in front of the Elmira bench.
A melee ensued and Campbell was given a five-minute major for head contact and a game misconduct. He was also slapped with a two-game suspension by the league the next day.
“I think I hit him too hard and I hurt his ego when he fell down,” said Kraus of the incident. “I actually knocked the wind out of myself, so I didn’t want to fight, otherwise I probably would have.”
That decision worked in Elmira’s favour, as captain Colton Wolfe-Sabo scored a powerplay goal at 14:05 on a deflected point shot to give the Kings a 3-2 lead that they managed to preserve to the final whistle.
Kings’ goaltender Justis Husak made 22 saves in just his seventh start of the season to collect the win.
“I thought I was really calm, I thought the team played awesome and they just kept going,” said Husak after the game.
“We weren’t getting too many bounces but we did have a couple opportunities on powerplay.”
DeSilva had nothing but praise for the role that Kraus has filled since his return from St. Thomas.
“He certainly gives us a lot of depth up front and gives us a shot in the arm in terms of work ethic. He brings it every shift and has been a pleasure to add to the team.”
The Kings travelled to Kitchener for a rematch with the Dutchmen on Tuesday night, and Kitchener got their revenge with a 5-4 win. The home team tallied three goals in the third period, two of them with the man advantage, to seal the win. Brett Priestap and Riley Sonnenburg each collected a goal and an assist in the loss, while Nick Horrigan surrendered five goals on 28 shots for the loss.
The team will now enjoy a bit of an extended break and won’t hit the ice again until Jan. 7 when they travel to Cambridge for a 7 p.m. game. They return home Jan. 8 for an afternoon match against the Owen Sound Greys at 2 p.m.