The Elmira Sugar Kings punched their ticket to the second round of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League playoffs by sweeping the Listowel Cyclones 4-0 in their best-of-seven series. Following their 5-2 win in Game 1 on Feb.29 at home, the Kings won 5-3 in Listowel on Mar. 2, 2-0 on home ice on Mar. 4, and finished the Cyclones off with a 3-1 win in Listowel Tuesday night. The team’s head coach said the key was for his team to wrap up the series once they were up 3-0 in order to prevent any shift in momentum.
“It was very important, because it required us to stay focused. It’s easy for a team once they go up 3-0 to lose focus because they don’t think they’ll lose four games in a row,” said Dean DeSilva. “The playoffs are all about momentum, and we didn’t want to give them any.” In the opening round of last year’s playoffs Listowel rode a wave of momentum to erase a 3-1 series deficit to Stratford to win it in seven games. This series was a rematch of last year’s Cherrey Cup finals, which Elmira won in six games, and the Kings managed to accomplish the sweep despite missing Lukas Baleshta and Clayton Greer for the entire series with injuries, as well as Riley Sonnenburg and leading scorer Andrew Smith for the final three games.“You take four or five guys out of any team’s lineup and what are they left with? Our depth certainly helps and it’s been a Godsend for us this series,” said DeSilva. The coach said those injuries provided an opportunity for other players to step up their play, and that was clearly the case. Eleven different Kings scored at least one goal in the series, and Nick Horrigan was outstanding in net, compiling a 1.50 goals against average and a .957 save percentage.
Last Sunday night he recorded his first shutout of the playoffs in front of a home crowd at the Dan Snyder Arena to put the Kings up 3-0 in the series. Michael Hasson and Wade Pfeffer scored a pair of powerplay goals at 1:01 and 5:59 of the second period, and that was all the offence the team would need. Brad Kraus and Brett Priestap picked up the assists on Hasson’s goal, while Scott Nagy and Cass Frey had the helpers on Pfeffer’s tally. The turning point of the game came at 9:31 of the second when Kraus was handed a five-minute major and a game misconduct for boarding. The Kings managed to limit most of the Cyclone shots to the outside, and Horrigan only faced a couple of dangerous situations.
“Nick played very well and the defense did a good job of letting him see the puck. Your goalie has to be the best penalty killer, and he was. Nick elevated his play for this series, and he is a leader on and off the ice.” DeSilva praised the job the Listowel coaches did of switching their tactics up all series against the Kings, and he believes his team will benefit from seeing those varying strategies as the playoffs progress. “Our players had to counter what they threw at us, and it has made them a better team.” The Kings still do not know who they will play in the second round of the playoffs. Waterloo leads its series against Stratford 2-1 and they played Thursday night with results unavailable before press. Meanwhile, Kitchener and Brantford are tied 2-2, and they also played Thursday night.
DeSilva said the Kings needed to tighten up in the defensive zone, and execute their system more effectively, adding that he fully expects to open the next round on the road against Stratford some time next week.
“We took too many penalties in the first two games, and the hockey Gods were smiling on us because there were a few bounces that could have gone the other way,” said DeSilva.
“We’ll take some time to heal up now, and we’re excited and anxious to get going in the next round.”