Winners of six straight and eight of their last nine games, the Elmira Sugar Kings are excelling at both ends of the ice.
Last weekend, the Kings topped Cambridge 3-2 and Guelph 4-3, improving to 14-3-1 for the season, just five points behind – and with four games in hand – the Midwestern Conference-leading Kitchener Dutchmen.
“We have played some really good games and we have had some really good battles to win games,” coach Jeff Flanagan said. “The guys have stuck to their jobs and have worked their way through some issues that we’ve had.”
Despite the great start to the season, there is still room for improvement, Flanagan said.
“The way we look at it is, it’s great to win, but those games are in the past. We need to keep practicing the things we are doing well and continue to try to get better every day.”
It’s a very competitive conference this season, and the Kings need to perform at a high level every game to stay at the top of the standings.
Take the November 8 match up in Cambridge, for example. While the Winter Hawks sit near the bottom of the conference – in seventh place at 8-9-2 – they have been a tough out for the Kings in each of their three meetings; they have played three games with two wins for the Kings, one for the Hawks and all of them decided by a one-goal margin.
“It was tough right down to the end; it was a good hockey game,” Flanagan said. “I thought Cambridge played a really good game; it was the best we’ve seen them play this year.”
Mac Clutsam got the Kings on the board late in the first with a power play marker from Mitch Wright and Rob Kohli.
In the second, Alex Mutton (Adam Brubacher, Kohli) and Wright (Mitch Klie, Cash Seraphim) each found the back of the net, while the Hawks picked up a goal of their own.
In the final frame, Elmira surrendered one to former King Stephen Jablonski, but hung on for the victory.
“Jon Reinhart played very well in net and that is always the first step to playing a good game,” Flanagan said. “We got a couple power play goals, which is a real plus for us because our power play has been getting better over the last few games.”
Reinhart made 32 saves in the victory, improving his save percentage to .918 on the year.
The following night the Kings hosted the Guelph Hurricanes at the Dan Snyder Memorial Arena.
Though the Kings had crushed the Hurricanes 5-0 just a week prior, this match proved much more difficult for the home side.
“I thought we played a little better on Sunday,” Flanagan said. “Our defensive side of the game wasn’t excellent (against Cambridge), so we talked about that before the game and I thought the guys responded well.”
The Kings gave up a power play goal to start the scoring in the first, but Kohli quickly tied it up with a power play goal from Wright and Clutsam. Klayton Hoelscher (Mutton, Brubacher) and Mutton (Seraphim, Kohli ) added a couple more to give the Kings a 3-1 lead heading into the second.
Guelph got one back in the second, but surrendered another power play goal (Kohli from Wright and Clutsam) early in the third.
The visitors notched another at 12:36 in the final frame, but that was as close as they would get.
“Guelph likes to play a wide open game, really pushing the pace with their fore check and long distance stretch passing,” Flanagan said. “They are a tough team to play. We played really well in the first period. Our second period wasn’t tremendous, and then in the third we just had a hard working period and hung on. Again, Andrew Lefebvre made some great saves near the end of the game to keep us up by a goal and our defense played really well at the end with some really nice shot blocks and freeing the puck in battle situations.”
The Kings looked to keep the streak alive on Thursday evening against Brantford and will host Cambridge at the WMC on Sunday; the puck drops at 7 p.m.