The Elmira Sugar Kings dominated the first game in the Sutherland Cup semi-finals on Wednesday night, defeating the LaSalle Vipers 7-2.
More than 1,000 fans filled the WMC to watch the Kings take on the wild card Vipers. Elmira took first blood, with a goal from Rob Kohli at 13:01 in the first. But despite the high score for Elmira, anyone who’s watched them throughout the season could see it wasn’t their best effort.“I don’t think that we were excellent,” Flanagan said. “I’d say that we did a few things well, such as we scored quite a few goals. We had done some defensive pre-scouting on the goaltending and they really tried to expose the weaknesses that we thought we found.”
Red hot rookie Ethan Skinner kept things rolling 25 seconds later, making it 2-0 to finish the period. He was assisted by Alex Mutton and Mitch Wright.
LaSalle returned the favour with a power play marker from Brendan Harrogate (Nathan Veres, Nathan Savage) at 3:33. But Sugar King Eric Palazzolo widened the lead at 5:23, helped by Zac Coulter. And Mitch Wright (Mac Clutsam, Mitch Klie) added his own on the power play to go into the final frame 4-1.
Flanagan noted they had a lot of turnovers, which usually isn’t an issue for the Kings.
“Our defensive zone was not great,” Flanagan said. “Our battles, not great and I think we had at least nine odd man rushes against us, and that is something we generally take pride in shutting down. That’s more odd man rushes than we had all of the last series, so I think mentally we weren’t quite engaged.”
Steve Jakiela (Palazzolo) gave the Kings a comfortable lead with his goal at 2:57 in the third. This was quickly followed by Sugar King Connor Hall and Viper Nikko Sablone getting into a fight, which got them both ejected.
Klayton Hoelscher worked to get the puck in the back of the net at 8:42, assists coming from Wright and Coulter. LaSalle attempted to make a comeback with Daniel Beaudoin’s goal at 10:46, assisted by Dalton Langlos and Nicolas Crescenzi, but it was all for naught.
“I think the second goal could have been prevented,” Flanagan said. “He skated all the way up the ice and the guys just didn’t take him.”
Cash Seraphim sealed the deal with a power play goal at 17:14, helped by Adam Brubacher and Palazzolo.
A fight broke out with four minutes to go in the game, giving Sugar King Sam Harris, and Vipers Brendan McGhee and Nick Gauvin penalties for roughing and inciting an opponent.
Flanagan noted goalie Jon Reinhart’s successful night in net.
“He was excellent, as usual,” Flanagan said. “And I know we say this a lot but he needed to be good tonight. We made some plays in the defensive zone that left him wide open, and the odd man rushes created some really good chances for them.”
Clutsam also racked up four penalties in the first two periods for tripping, hooking, and unsportsmanlike conduct. Elmira spent 33 minutes in the box to LaSalle’s 27. Flanagan said many of the players are under a lot of stress with writing university and college exams right now, which means they may not be always mentally focused. He says he doesn’t foresee the fighting becoming a recurring theme in the series.
“I think it was just two teams trying to assert their dominance, and say we’re here for the long haul and don’t think you’re going to push us around,” Flanagan said. “Did I like it? No, but I’m sure that [coach] Bill [Bowler] wasn’t a fan of it on their side either.”
The Vipers fell to the Leamington Flyers in the Western Conference, but had the best record of the teams in the three conferences that hadn’t won their conference. This gave them the wild card spot in the race for the Sutherland Cup. LaSalle won the Sutherland Cup in 2010.
Caledonia and Leamington are facing off for the other spot in the Sutherland Cup finals.
“I think we’re going to have a better game and we never look any further than the next game,” Flanagan said. “Our philosophy here is play a game, look at it, assess it, what did we do well, what did we do poorly, and then prepare for the next game. I don’t think that they played their best game tonight either, so we’re going to have to be ready.”
The Kings headed to LaSalle on Friday for the second match of the seven-game series. They’ll return to the WMC at 7 p.m. on Sunday.