The Elmira Sugar Kings and the Woolwich Memorial Centre played host to game one of the annual Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League all-star match on Monday night, where some 800 fans certainly got their money’s worth as the Midwestern Conference all-stars skated away with a 6-5 win over the Golden Horseshoe Conference.
The Kings’ Andrew Smith picked up a pair of points, including the game-winner midway through the third period. Midwestern Conference team captain and Kings teammate Riley Sonnenburg collected a pair of assists in the win, as well.
Defenceman Craig Johnson also suited up in the game, and goaltender Nick Horrigan played the first two periods, allowing four goals on 22 shots. Forward Brett Priestap was named to the team but did not play because of injury.
“I would not want to be a goalie in any all-star game, and Nick Horrigan saw a lot of point-blank shots early on in the game, but I thought Nick played well,” said Kings head coach Dean DeSilva, who was an assistant coach on Monday night.
The action started early as Smith and Sonnenburg collected the assists when Waterloo Siskins forward Adam Campagnolo opened the scoring at 4:46 of the first.
The Golden Horseshoe responded with a pair of quick goals at 12:36 and 12:50, both high glove side on Horrigan, to take a 2-1 lead.
Shane Kinsella of the Guelph Hurricanes briefly knotted the match at two with a goal at 14:20, but the Golden Horseshoe regained the lead at 16:34 on a shot past a screened Horrigan.
Despite a total of five goals, the period was marked by long stretches of sloppy play and a relaxed approach by the players, which frustrated DeSilva and the other coaches.
“We were looking for something more intense, and in the first period there was no effort, there was no intensity, there was no skating, everyone was just being fancy,” he said.
“There were a lot of NCAA schools and OHL teams there, and I’m not sure how many of them stuck around after the first period,” he added.
In the second period, however, the players seemed to grow more accustomed to their new teammates, resulting in quicker play. The teams traded goals in the period, with Michael Christou of the Cambridge Winter Hawks tying the game 3-3 at 10:57 by finishing off a terrific tick-tack-toe play with his Winter Hawk teammates Josh Timpano and Ryan Clarke.
Just under two minutes later, however, the Golden Horseshoe’s Riley Jakobschuk gave his team the lead by beating Horrigan with a shot at 12:35.
In the third period, after the Golden Horseshoe took a 5-3 lead at the 3:07 mark, the game finally began to develop some intensity. Players started racing for loose pucks and the match began to resemble a playoff match rather than an all star game.
The Midwestern Conference capitalized on the change in the style in play and scored three goals in a span of seven minutes to take a 6-5 lead, headlined by Smith’s eventual winner at 11:21 from Sonnenburg and Campagnolo.
Sonnenburg went wide to the left of the Golden Horseshoe net, and threw the puck into the slot where Smith fired it top corner.
Following that goal, fans and players bared witness to a rarity in an all star game, a fight, which drew the biggest cheers of the night.
Defenceman Calvin Thomson of the Midwestern Conference checked Cam McLean in the corner of the Midwest zone, and after trading a few slashes the pair dropped their gloves.
Both players received a game misconduct and a two minute slashing penalty.
“I think a lot of it had to do with pride,” said De Silva of the higher tempo and more intense third period.
“Everyone wants to say that their conference is better than the other […] and I think that’s what picked the intensity up a little bit.”
It’s also no coincidence that once the game got more intense, Smith emerged as one of the best players on the ice.
Following his goal, he had a prime chance to extend the lead to two, but was robbed by the glove hand of goaltender Matt Coloumbe with just under four minutes left on the exact same play that he scored on a few minutes earlier.
Smith was also stopped on a clear breakaway with 2:34 left on the clock at the end of a long shift.
“When the game gets chippy and aggressive, Andrew Smith plays the best in that situation. He’s a big power forward and the type of player that is willing to give that hit or take a hit to make a play,” said De Silva.
Game two of the all star series is set for Jan. 23 at the Valley Park Arena, hosted by the Stoney Creek Warriors at 7:30 p.m.
The Sugar Kings also had two players named to the GOJHL top prospects game scheduled for Jan. 16 at the Vollmer Recreation Complex in LaSalle.
Defenceman Clayton Greer (one goal, 14 assists, 47 penalty minutes) and forward Will Cook (13 goals, 16 assists, 44 penalty minutes) have been named to the Midwestern Conference team.