The Elmira Sugar Kings captured the 2014-2015 Cherrey Cup Wednesday night with a decisive 5-1 victory over the Stratford Cullitons.More than 1,500 spectators packed the Woolwich Memorial Centre to watch game five. Leading the series 3-1, the Kings were eager to clinch the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Midwestern Conference championship on home ice; and so were their fans.
With outstanding performances throughout the lineup, including a 32-save night for netminder Jonathan Reinhart and a hat trick for rookie forward Ethan Skinner, they didn’t disappoint.
Asked to describe the key to his club’s success, head coach Jeff Flanagan drew on what has been a common theme for the team all season long: defence.
“Our guys were very defensively minded,” he said. “Our battles were better. As we went through the series, our battles were not very good. But we kept getting a little better and a little better. … One thing we did well was that when we lost a battle, we just re-engaged again and kept the battle going instead of giving them on opportunity to get moving. And then Jon Reinhart played excellent and whenever we had a chance to make a simple play, we did.”
After sweeping both the Brampton Bombers and the Waterloo Siskins in the first two rounds of the playoffs, the Kings looked to be cruising into the Cherrey Cup final match up against Stratford.
But the plucky, chippy bunch from Stratford proved a greater test.
Game one went to Elmira 4-1 at home March 25. Then, the boys headed on the road to the Allman Arena on the 27 where they fell 4-2.
Back at home on the 29, the Kings eked out a tight 4-3 win in double overtime.
Then they carried the momentum back into Stratford the next night with a 5-4 victory.
That set the stage for a dramatic game five with the cup on the line back at home in front of a sellout crowd.
Skinner opened the scoring with a brilliant goal midway through the first. After missing time during the first two rounds of the playoffs, Skinner is getting back to full stride, Flanagan said. And it showed.
The speedy centre picked up the puck near centre ice and blew past the Culliton defence for a breakaway. In all alone, he made no mistake on the back hand before jumping into the glass in the corner in jubilation. Mitch Wright and Adam Brubacher picked up the assists.
In the second, Skinner potted another to give the Kings a 2-0 lead.
It stayed that way until the 10:34 mark of the third when Startford finally solved Reinhart.
But that’s as close as they would get.
Brendan Schneider got the Kings the insurance goal at 14:48, Alex Mutton picked up the apple.
Then, with 4:30 left on the clock the Cullies pulled their goalie. Mitch Klie promptly put the game out of reach with an empty netter.
And just for good measure, Skinner added another in the final minute. After using his wheels to find open ice to the net, it looked like the open cage was up for grabs. Instead, the Cullies sent goalie Nick Caldwell rushing back into his crease. But it was pointless, since Skinner easily found the back of the net for the hat trick. And with a raucous full house on hand, dozens of hats soared down onto the ice.
As the clock wound down to zero, the Sugar Kings swarmed the ice, piling up on top of their goaltender behind his net.
Following the euphoric celebration and the traditional skate with the cup, captain Klie applauded his team’s effort.
“We got the first goal which was huge,” he said. “We knew we were going to come out and win tonight. We play strong at home, and we’re really happy with the outcome.”
Asked about his standout performance, Skinner instead pushed the focus towards his teammates.
“It was definitely a good game for everybody,” he said. “My line mates made it easy for me and I just tried to play the systems and do what we go over every day.”
Now, the Kings head to the Sutherland Cup semi-finals where they will face off against the top teams from the GOJHL’s Western and Golden Horseshoe conferences, plus a wild card squad.