The Elmira Sugar Kings wrapped up their season Sunday night on home ice, suffering an emotional 4-3 overtime loss to the Stratford Cullitons in Game 6.
Stratford starts the Cherrey Cup finals series versus the Waterloo Siskins on Friday.
“It’s always tough when a season comes to an end, especially with the amount of time and effort that the guys put into the season,” said head coach Ty Canal.
“It’s always tough, especially for the 20-year-olds. A lot of them put a lot of years into not just Elmira, but Junior hockey as a whole. It’s always tough to see that part come to an end for them.”
Elmira managed to tie the game up twice against Stratford on Sunday night to send it into overtime. The Cullies found offensive success in the first 20 minutes with goals from Zach Van Louwe (Anthony Kotsovos, Jack Scanlan) and Jared Nash (Justin Graham, Zander Pryor).
Quinten Bruce put the puck past Stratford goalie Alexander Brooks-Potts just before the 2-minute mark in the middle frame to finally put Elmira on the board. Ty Biles and Kyle Soper assisted. Zac Coulter tied it 2-2 for the Kings, assisted by Beau Goehrum when they added an extra attacker.
Stratford took the lead in the second with a goal from Joe Leahy (Brooks-Potts) while Elmira was down a man. There was no scoring in the third until 15:59 when Mackenzie MacSorley scored, assisted by Jeff Jordan and Jake Moggy tying the game 3-3.
It took one face off and only seven seconds for the game to end in Stratford’s favor as Tyson Baker (Hayden Broomhead, Deven Kropf) scored.
“I thought we competed well and I think that was something that we had been harping on for awhile, is to make sure that we played as close to 60 minutes as we could and to never give up and just out work and try to out compete and skate. And I think our guys did that. I didn’t see them giving up at all and they wanted to play for one another and they wanted to go to battle. And that’s what I saw and that’s one of the big things that I think they did and improved on as the year went on,” Canal said.
The Kings pushed the semi-final series to Sunday night’s Game 6 after defeating Stratford at the Allman Memorial Arena on Mar. 25. Moggy, helped by Coulter, opened the scoring for the Kings early in the first. Stratford’s Scanlan (Pryor, Brock Heshka) quickly tied it up. MacSorley gave the Kings the 2-1 lead to end the first with a power play marker. Coulter picked up his second assist.
Elmira’s Ryley Cribbin scored unassisted in the second to increase the Sugar Kings’ lead to 3-1, but the Cullies fired back by a goal from Broomhead (Josh Miller, Kotsovos).
Coulter gave Elmira its fourth goal of the night in the final period, assisted by Kohli and MacSorley. A goal from Stratford’s Pryor (Scanlan) wasn’t enough to give the Cullitons the win.
The Kings had lost the previous game on Mar. 23 at home 4-1, making that Friday game in Stratford do or die. Captain Rob Kohli scored the Kings’ lone goal, assisted by MacSorley and Goehrum.
The Kings finished the regular season in fifth place. They went on to beat fourth-place Guelph in the quarter-finals.
Canal says as the season progressed he could see the guys having fun and the team getting close, which translated into games and practices.“Through practices you could see that they’re working harder and making each other better players. In games they were doing the things you need to do to win, blocking shots, doing the hard things, getting on pucks first, clearing in front of the net. That improved through the year and I think a lot of that had to do with how close they got,” Canal said.
This season marked Canal’s first year as head coach of the Elmira squad and he says it was fun to be a part of and see where they started individually compared to where they ended up.
“The best part is seeing where they came as a team and seeing them believe in one another and trust one another and really that’s a nice part to see as the year went on. And that’s tough to get. That just goes to show you the type of not just 20-year-olds, but the leaders that are in that group. The old guys taking on young guys and getting them on the same page and getting them toward the same objectives and the same goals and everybody following. And I think that’s something that showed over the course of the year,” Canal said.
And the fan support was unparalleled. Between travelling to road games and cheering on the team with cow bells and homemade signs, the Sugar King fan base helped the team through rough patches.
“It’s great to see. It goes a far way for the players. The players know that they’re taking three to four hours out of their day to come watch them play hockey. The guys enjoy that and the guys love to see it. I think it definitely translates into the way they play, gives them a little bit of a burst of energy and excitement,” Canal said.
He notes the older players always made sure the team took time to say hi and interact with the kids at the rink who look up to the Kings, always giving high fives on the way to the dressing room between periods, even when the season came to an end this week.
This was the final season of junior hockey for Zac Coulter, Rob Kohli, Jake Moggy, Mackenzie MacSorley, Kalob Witzell, and Kevin Fitzpatrick. Coulter played five years in the GOJHL, accumulating a record 243 games played.
Spring camp for next season runs on Apr. 30 and May 1 at the WMC.