In the race for the Cherrey Cup, the Elmira Sugar Kings are one step closer after defeating the Stratford Cullitons 4-1 Wednesday night on home ice. The Kings, having swept through the first two rounds of the playoffs, are up 1-0 in the series.Both teams were aiming to please the 1,270 fans who filled the arena, firing off a combined 27 shots in the first period. But Elmira’s Mitch Wright was the saving grace, launching one past Stratford’s goalie with just two minutes left in the frame. He was assisted by Mac Clutsam and Mitch Klie.
Head coach Jeff Flanagan said they thought they played a complete game.
“Our defensive side was very good and we did a good job on the forecheck,” Flanagan said. “We got some goals from players we needed to get goals from. We thought the guys’ effort was probably the main key to their success today.”
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Nothing changed in the second period, with both teams having power play opportunities that proved fruitless. Stratford started the final frame on the power play.
But Elmira would strike again, just 52 seconds into the period with a marker from Chad Herron (Adam Brubacher, Rob Kohli). And Clutsam gave them a comfortable 3-0 lead with his goal at the 10-minute mark. He was helped by Mitch Wright.
“We came in with our plan and all playoffs we’ve been playing strong teams,” Flanagan said. “We just had to make sure we did the things that we identified as a group that will make us successful.”
As Connor Hall got sent to the box, Stratford pulled their goalie to make it 6-on-4. And it worked out for them, as Hayden Broomhead (Jake Pleon, Trevor Sauder) scored with six minutes to go.
Stratford pulled their goalie again late in the game, but this time the Kings were ready. Herron (assisted by Klie) snatched up the puck and scored on the empty net to seal the victory.
“We have a set defensive zone that we play in that situation,” Flanagan said. “We scouted what they do in that situation themselves, and hopefully it helped us prepare a little bit. And then it just comes down to how hard you work. You’ve got to get some bounces. You never know how that’s going to go.”
This is the first time since 2002 that the Sugar Kings and the Cullitons have faced off for the Cherrey Cup. Both teams have won the cup three times, and the Kings defeated them in five games in the 2002 matchup.
Players who stood out in this game were Jon Reinhart, Mitch Wright, Mitch Klie, Sam Harris, Mac Clutsam, and Connor Hall.
“I think everybody played a very good game and tried to do the things that were asked of them,” Flanagan said.
The winner will play for the Sutherland Cup against the two other Junior B conference winners and a wildcard team, determined by the team with the best showing in playoffs, but without a conference title.
“It’s one day at a time,” Flanagan said. “And I know it’s a cliché but tomorrow we’ll have a quick practice, watch video, and then set a new plan for Friday. The old adage is you only have until midnight, enjoy it, and then after midnight you’ve got to move on and prepare for the next.”
After game two in Stratford Friday night, the teams return to the WMC on Sunday for a 7 p.m. tilt.