With his team getting set to resume play after a break for the holidays, Elmira’s director of hockey operations says there’s much to be happy about thus far.
“I’d say it’s been a good start, a good first half of the year. We just hope to improve on it in the new year and just keep the boys doing what they are doing,” said Keith Stewart.
The Sugar Kings have a record of 25-4-3, their 53 points putting them in second place in the Midwestern Conference, just two points behind Kitchener and with a game in hand.
In their last three games before the break, the Kings swept away the conference-trailing Brantford 99ers 3-2 on December 19 before heading into some tough competition with Cambridge over back-to-back games, coming out with a 2-1 shootout loss on December 21 then a win at home 4-2 the next day.
Brantford, though well behind the Kings in the GOJHL standings, forced overtime before falling to the visiting squad. Elmira can thank the PK, which killed off eight penalties, for helping with the two points.
Mitch Klie got the Kings rolling on the scoreboard at 9:49 on assists from Michael Wilkins and Zac Coulter. The tide would turn, at least temporarily, as Brantford scored twice in the opening frame despite being outshot 16-8.
Brantford netminder Marcus Del Conte was peppered some more in the second period – shots were doubled up again, 14-7 – but turned away all comers, as did his crease rival, Jonathan Reinhart.
The period did, however, offer up 20 of the game’s 30 penalty minutes, including misconducts for fighting awarded to Cash Seraphim and 99ers’ Alex Deluce.
It was still 2-1 after 40 minutes.
The third period played out much the same way until the last six minutes. Klie came through again on an unassisted goal at 14:43 to tie the game and send the teams into OT, where Adam Campagnolo (David Savery, Wilkins) potted the winning goal at 2:25.
Shots were 48-27 overall.
Two days later in Cambridge, the Kings were in another close battle, this time with the much tougher Winter Hawks.
Both teams found the back of the net late in the first period, Cambridge first at 17:10 followed a minute later by Elmira’s Savery (Klie, Coulter) at 18:12.
What followed was a 1-1 deadlock lasting two more periods, Elmira nearly matching the opposition for shots 35-33 until the Winter Hawks finally won in the shootout, which required six rounds to settle.
Perhaps tired of one-goal games, the Kings stepped up their play the next day as Cambridge came to the WMC for seconds. Though there was no activity on the scoreboard in the first period, the middle frame saw Brodie Whitehead (Mitch Wright) land the first goal at 3:02, followed by Wright (Justin Cooke, Campagnolo) at 6:24, then Campagnolo (Savery, Brubacher) at 13:58.
“Cambridge is a hard building to play in. It was a three out of four point weekend, and I’d say that’s pretty successful,” said Stewart of the matches against the Hawks. “The boys bounced back in our barn on Sunday. We just worked hard, we got back to the basics and our passes were a lot better and our man-to-man coverage, things like that. We didn’t have any little breakdowns and our energy level was a bit better.”
The Winter Hawks found the back of the net at 17:27 before ending the period and coming back for the final frame, they did it again at 5:39, but too little too late, and it was their last. Klie (Cass Frey) sealed the deal by scoring into an empty net in the last second for the 4-2 win.
After the Christmas break, the Kings get a chance to work off some of that turkey in their first match of the New Year, taking on the Stratford Cullitons Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Dan Snyder Arena.