A win and two shootout losses help keep Elmira in second place as race tightens in the conferenceNearing the halfway mark in the season, the Elmira Sugar Kings are counting each point. There’s no such thing as an easy game at this stage, head coach Jeff Flanagan observed this week while giving a nod to the team’s hard-fought battles against their closest rivals: in Waterloo November 9, a 6-5 shootout loss; a 4-2 victory against Cambridge on Sunday; and 3-2 loss Tuesday in Kitchener.
“There’s not a big spread between the top four teams. Every point matters and they call them the four point swings, where it really separates if you can get a win. Every game is important. There are no easy games,” he said.
With the four best teams neck and neck in points, Kitchener first in the GOJHL’ Midwestern Conference with 38 points, Elmira retaining second (32) followed by Waterloo (29) and Cambridge (22), coaches hope the last three games are telltale signs of success to come as the Kings’ scoring improves.
“We battled very hard. We got some scoring early, and we’ve struggled to score in the last month, probably. Getting five goals is a big plus for us and again, penalties both ways and some power play goals. The guys worked really well as a team,” Flanagan said of the two weekend games.
Last Saturday, penalties were a regular bane for both teams, culminating in 75 total minutes (50 minutes for the Kings) of bench time for 25 offenses.
Going into the first period, Elmira’s Mitch Wright potted the first goal of the night at 4:49, with assists from Adam Campagnolo and Zac Coulter, but the Kings then ran into penalty trouble, allowing Waterloo to score early and often. A weakened defence saw the Siskins find the back of the net at 6:43, 7:54, 12:01 and 13:56 before the Kings began to scrape up some offense of their own. Coulter (Jaden Goetz) made the score 4-2 at 19:11 before returning to the room.
In the second, Waterloo was outshot a whopping 18-8 despite another goal at 8:47 as the Kings redoubled their efforts and returned the favour at 15:31 courtesy of Campagnolo (Brennon Pierce and Adam Brubacher).
Leading up to the third-period tie, and eventual shootout win for Waterloo, Wright (Brad Kobryn, David Savery) scored at 6:51 followed by a final goal by Campagnolo (Wright, Cass Frey) at 19:34.
Having clawed back from a three-goal deficit, the Kings forced overtime, which settled nothing. In the shootout, only Kobryn beat Siskins netminder Leo Lazarev, while both of Waterloo’s shooters got the puck past Jonathan Reinhart.
It was a different story back at the WMC on Sunday when the game was decided early, with all of the scoring in a 4-2 final coming in the first period.
Coulter (Kobryn, Cash Seraphim) got the ball rolling against the Winter Hawks at 4:03. Cambridge followed with its own goal at 6:58 before Coulter found his way around the rivals again at 14:30. Cambridge followed with a goal at 15:02, their last as Elmira closed in at 18:31 with Wright (Campagnolo, Craig Johnson), then Savery at 19:53 (Campagnolo, Frey).
Neither team could capitalize on their chances in the second and third periods. Outshot 14-12 in the first, the Winter Hawks had the edge in the next two, finishing up 38-35. As with the previous night, penalties were an issue: the teams split 60 minutes’ worth of infractions, and Elmira’s final two goals came with the man-advantage.
“It’s always a concern if you get ahead early: sometimes players tend to feel comfortable, but I don’t think we had that issue tonight. They continued to do their jobs and try to do the right thing. Luckily tonight we didn’t have that issue,” Flanagan said.
It was another seesaw battle Tuesday night in Kitchener against the conference-leading Dutchmen, as the teams exchanged goals before becoming deadlocked at 2-2 and forcing a shootout that the home team would win.
The loss was something of a heartbreaker since the Kings held a 2-1 lead with less than two minutes left in the game.
Special teams were a key part of the game. Elmira’s first goal – from Kohli, assisted by Coulter and Seraphim – came on the power play at 7:02 of the second period. The lead was short-lived, however, as Kitchener needed just six seconds to even it up. Kobryn Seraphim, Savery) put the visitors up at 18:34, making it 2-1 Kings after 40 minutes.
The late goal by Kitchener set the stage for the extra frame, which solved nothing. In the shootout, Kitchener goalie Marc Williams stoned all three shooters, while Hayden Neuman was beaten once.
In Brampton Friday night, the Kings return to the WMC Sunday for the second game of a home-and-home matchup with the Bombers. Game time at the Dan Snyder Arena is 7 p.m.