A late rally in the third period at the Dan Snyder Arena on Sunday gave the Elmira Sugar Kings a 3-1 win over the visiting Waterloo Siskins, extending their win streak to seven games. The Kings were bolstered by their 7-6 come-from-behind win two nights earlier over the Cullitons while visiting Stratford on Feb. 10.The four-point weekend pulled third-place Elmira to within six points of front-running Brantford in the Midwestern Conference.
The last two games were a lesson for the Kings, said head coach Dean DeSilva, who knows his charges are capable of playing high quality hockey when they play as a team.
“We are a very ordinary team if we go on our own agenda. We are a very good team and very difficult to beat if we stick to our systems,” said DeSilva. “It is that time of year and guys are getting antsy wanting to get into the playoffs but it is games like these that we have to learn our lessons and play like the team we are capable of being.”
The Stratford Cullitons drew first blood against the Kings when Pat Clifford beat goaltender Nick Horrigan at 13:18. Six minutes later Culliton forward Ryan Watson tallied the second goal of the night, sending the Kings back to the room down by two.
Returning to the ice, Elmira forward Andrew Smith would score his first of three 13 seconds into the second period, beating Cullitons netminder Jesse Raymond. Colton Wolfe-Sabo and Brett Priestap collected assists.
Stratford responded in short order by scoring two more goals less than three minutes apart, leaving DeSilva no choice but to pull Horrigan from the net and in favour of backup Justis Husak.
“We had a real good first period, sat back too much in the second and had a couple of bad bounces. I know (Horrigan) would like to have some of those goals back but (Husak) came in a played very well for us,” said DeSilva.
The Kings rallied in the second half of the period, scoring two goals to bring them within one after 40 minutes. Preistap scored at 10:42 during a power play and Smith potted his second with just over a minute remaining the period.
The Kings came out with determination in the third, with Scott Nagy needing less than a minute to net the equalizer. The 3-3 score didn’t stand for long, as the the remainder of the period saw both teams trading goals and heading into overtime with six apiece.
Elmira would not waste anytime in OT as Smith would complete the hat trick, scoring just over minute in to give the Kings a 7-6 victory.
“There was just never any doubt that we were not going to win that hockey game. It was a big game and it was important to win in that building and that was our goal and we don’t care how we did it or what the score was as long as we came away with the two points,” said DeSilva.
Two nights later, the team was at home to host the Waterloo Siskins. They were first on the board when Brett Catto beat Waterloo Marc Williams at 11:15 during a power play. Elmira defenceman Clayton Greer gathered the puck deep in his own end, bringing it over centre ice before passing it to Brad Kraus, who beat two Siskins en route to the net and then dished off to Catto who cashed in on a one-timer.
Waterloo did not roll over, however, and continued to keep the pressure on the Kings during the rest of the period before being rewarded with goal when forward Kyle Platzer chipped the puck over the right shoulder of Elmira netminder Husak.
Tied at 1-1 after the first, neither team could muster a goal in the second. Williams, the Waterloo netminder, had a terrific second period in net, shutting out the Kings on three 5-on-3 advantages.
“It was a tough game. We made it tough on ourselves,” said DeSiva. “They outworked us from start to finish, and I didn’t think that we stuck to any systems: we were very individual.”
The third frame would be much of the same and the Kings only hope was to rediscover the sense of urgency they played with on Friday night in Stratford.
With less than three minutes remaining, Priestap fired a wrist shot past Williams, giving the Kings the lead. Catto would add one more for insurance 10 seconds later to give Elmira the win.
All season long, the Kings have shown an uncanny ability to crank it up a notch when they needed to; DeSilva knew his players were capable of getting the job done.
“It was a hard game but the two points at this time of the year are important, we are a strong team and are capable of winning,” he said. “It was definitely an emotional letdown after the game with Stratford. It was a good lesson for us and it is good to have that lesson now because games like that are going to happen during the playoffs and we have to learn what to do and how to handle them.”
The Kings have just five games remaining before the postseason, two at home and three on the road. Home games are against Guelph and Stratford. Away games are at Owen Sound, Waterloo, and Brantford.
Elmira is home Sunday to take on the Guelph Hurricanes, with the puck dropping at 7 p.m.