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Examining the compete levels through three-game swing

Zac Coulter, the Kings’ leading goal scorer with 12, tries to jam the puck past Culliton netminder Nicholas Caldwell. [Scott Barber / The Observer]

Kings show their stuff as team put to the test in victories over Guelph and Cambridge, OT loss to Kitchener

The Kings have tried to stay calm under pressure, says head coach Jeff Flanagan.[Will Sloan / The Observer]
The Kings have tried to stay calm under pressure, says head coach Jeff Flanagan. [Will Sloan / The Observer]
Sometimes it’s the little things that make a difference. What made the Elmira Sugar Kings’ 3-2 shootout win against the Guelph Hurricanes on January 25 different from their more decisive 6-3 victory over the Cambridge Winter Hawks the next day? And how did they compare to Tuesday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Kitchener Dutchmen? Head coach Jeff Flanagan noted that effort levels have a lot to do with the intangibles.

“They play in the Sleeman Centre,” said Flanagan of the Hurricanes, “so it’s very big and there aren’t always a lot of people there. No one in our league can fill a 5,000-seat arena, so it’s tough to get motivated and there’s not a lot of energy. You have to create that yourself.”

Sure enough, the Saturday game was relatively uneventful. Adam Brubacher (assisted by David Savery and Brad Kobryn) was first on the board at 14:27, and Guelph countered with two goals in the second period. Justin Cooke (Matt Harding, Steve Jakiela) tied it for the Kings at 14:39, and neither team managed a goal in the third period. The Kings finally eked out a 3-2 win in the shootout.

“We weren’t 100 per cent happy with how we played,” Flanagan admitted. “We had lots of chances, didn’t score, and it went to a shootout and the guys we really depend on to score goals scored goals. We’ve struggled in the shootout, so it was nice to see our guys get ‘er done.”

By contrast, Sunday’s home game against Cambridge saw the team bring “100 per cent effort,” says Flanagan. The Winter Hawks drew first blood at 7:04, but Savery (Kobryn) was right behind with a goal 27 seconds later.

Cambridge scored again early in the second period, but Elmira dominated the rest of the game: Kobryn (Craig Johnson, Adam Campagnolo) at 14:21; Brubacher (Campagnolo, Savery) at 14:48); Kobryn 27 seconds into the third; Jakiela (Alex Mutton, Harding) at 8:40; and Mitch Wright (Brubacher, Savery) at 17:43.

In the midst of the onslaught, the Hawks scored one more goal at 10:37 in the third, but couldn’t stop the Kings’ momentum, even as the chemistry between the teams grew tenser.

“One thing we’ve been working on with our players all year is, if your life is in danger, if someone is threatening violence towards you, you stick up for yourself. But if not, if it’s verbal or just a good, hard hockey play, you’ve got to learn to keep your emotions on an even keel.”

Flanagan continued, “Early on in the season, we had a lot of issues with controlling our emotions, so if anything happened on the ice between players, maybe a player would take a bad penalty. So we’ve been working a lot on it; the guys did a pretty good job tonight of that. There were a couple of good fights, and nobody got hurt.”

It was a different story on January 28, when the Kings went to Kitchener to play the first-place Dutchmen. Elmira got off to a strong start, with a pair of goals by Zac Coulter at 1:44 and 10:11 in the first period, but Kitchener matched them in the second, and scored again in the third. Craig Johnson (Campagnolo, Wright) was able to tie the game at 14:30, but the Elmira boys lost 2:50 in overtime.

“It’s one of those intangibles,” said Flanagan after the game. “We’re playing Kitchener, who are a good team, and we were up 2-0 early. Sometimes you score some quick goals and it feels like things are going to go pretty easy; then Kitchener turned it up.”

He concluded, “It’s really a game of mistakes. If you don’t mind your P’s and Q’s and do all the little things correctly, they have the ability to take those mistakes and turn them into goals.

The Kings will meet the Stratford Cullitons on home ice tomorrow (Sunday) for a pre-Superbowl matinee at 2 p.m. After that, they’ll be in Brantford on February 6 to play the 99ers.

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