Opening the weekend with a win over the Listowel Cyclones, the Elmira Sugar Kings returned to the WMC on Sunday for their home opener, falling 4-3 to the Guelph Hurricanes.
The Kings dominated the Cyclones on September 18, starting the first period with two power play goals from veterans Rob Kohli and Zac Coulter. Assists came from Coulter, Ethan Skinner, Kohli, and Mitch Montgomery.
“We executed the game plan as what we had laid out needed to be done in Listowel,” head coach Jeff Flanagan said. “It’s always very difficult to play there because of the size of the rink and Listowel obviously practices there and they know very well how to play there. We have to be prepared in those situations to play simple and really battle hard for pucks because it’s really what wins the game there, not so much systems, as opposed to being responsible when getting into puck battles, winning them.”
Being first to pucks was equally important because Listowel is a fast team who jumps on pucks in the defensive zone and the offensive zone. Flanagan said the Kings got some timely scoring from their power play.
Listowel’s Jordan Caskenette put them on the board late in the first, helped by Chayse Herrfort.
But Elmira kept the pressure on, as Skinner (Coulter, Kohli) put one in the net less than a minute into the second. Kohli followed up three minutes later with his second of the game, while shorthanded. Quinten Bruce notched his first goal as a King to bring the score up to 5-1, with assists from Kevin Gergely and Harlen VanWynsberghe.
Former Sugar King, and current Cyclone, Jamie Huber scored halfway through the second, assisted by Carter Franks on a power play to make it 5-2.
The Kings held their lead in the third, adding a power play marker from Coulter (Montgomery, Skinner), despite a final power play goal from Listowel’s Jakob Lee (Keaton Willis, Blake Nichol) to finish the game 6-3.
“We were pretty happy with our guys and they certainly were as well,” Flanagan said.
They returned to Elmira on September 20 for their first home game of the season. Guelph took a 2-0 lead in the first, capitalizing on power plays and Elmira was never able to recover. Hurricanes goals came from Ryan Burns (Stefano Pezzetta, Ryan Migliaccio), and Cameron Stokes (Cameron Palmer, Brody Milne).
“We didn’t think that maybe our effort was as great for a full 60 minutes as it should be,” Flanagan said. “We talked to the group after the game and asked the guys what they thought and that was the number one thing. They thought we could have raised our effort level in those times when maybe we took the foot of the pedal. We did get a lot of great chances, hit a couple posts, had a couple breakaways that just didn’t transfer into goals and their goaltender played pretty well.”
Kings fans were optimistic in the second period as local players Jake Moggy and Klayton Hoelscher found the back of the net to tie up the game. Alex Peterson, Jeff Jordan, and Coulter provided assists.
But Guelph was determined, pulling ahead by another two goals in the third from Ryan Burns (Sean Power) and Lucas Dybowski (Corson Searles, Alex Ritchie).
“They took some advantage when we turned pucks over on the power play and when you get those opportunities you have to score and they did. That was the difference, really,” Flanagan said.
The Kings adjusted mid-game to accommodate for how the Hurricanes were setting up their power play. They pulled goalie Mike Black late in the game to add a player, which led to Ty Jackson (Kohli) scoring, but the game ended 4-3 in Guelph’s favor.
Flanagan said a lot of the systems they’re running are new to some of their players. They’ve got quite a few young guys who are still in high school, and they’re learning as they go.
“We’re certainly going to have some times when things go fantastically well for us, and we’re going to have some times where we are going to leave a little to be desired. The guys understand that. They’re willing to learn and work hard. I think at times our penalty kill was good and at times we weren’t in the right lanes and didn’t execute getting to pucks in the right situations the way we should,” Flanagan said.
He said they’re coming together well as a team, playing their first floor hockey game of the season with special need adults this week – a Sugar Kings tradition.
They’re also busy working for their home and home against Brantford this weekend, especially their defensive zone – a focus all season.
“They sound kind of trivial, but shots hitting the net, not getting shots blocked, stopping at the net, playing responsible in the D zone, making sure that we don’t turn pucks over in scary areas. The little things make big successes, so we’re going to focus on those things this weekend, also getting to execute our basic systems in a better fashion so we can start to build on those,” Flanagan said.
Starting goalie Liam Conway has yet to play for the Kings due to an injury, but Flanagan is hopeful he’ll play in some capacity this weekend. He says Mike Black has done a great job in net for them and they’re by no means rushing Conway.
“We want to make sure he’s 100 per cent healthy before he does anything strenuous. We don’t want him to put himself in a bad situation. We want him to come back and be able to play for the rest of the season without reinjuring the specific thing that he has right now,” Flanagan said,
The Rank family was on hand for the unveiling of the plaque outside the newly dedicated Richard Rank Referee Room. Last year’s Sugar Kings also returned prior to the home-opener to raise the banner for their 2014-2015 Cherrey Cup win.
“The guys were pretty excited about it. We’re pretty lucky to be playing and working with an organization like the Sugar Kings where they look after the players in that manner,” Flanagan said.
“There are a lot of places that wouldn’t go to those lengths for their players. The guys are very thankful for it and the community support that allowed them to be in a situation to win and get those awesome rings.”
The Kings headed to Brantford Thursday night to take on the 99ers and will return to the WMC on Sunday to face them on home ice. The puck drops at 7 p.m.