Just call them the comeback kids.
Down 2-0 in the semi-finals against the Kitchener Dutchmen, the Elmira Sugar Kings rallied to come back and win four straight to send themselves to the Cherrey Cup final this weekend against Listowel.
At the Kitchener Auditorium on Friday night, Elmira took a 2-0 lead in the first period, with goals from Mitch Hoelscher and Jake Brown, assisted by Josh Slegers (2), Anthony Azzano and Ethan Skinner.
“We came out of the gate the way we needed to,” said head coach Ty Canal.
“We obviously knew that they were going to be raring to go and come out flying and send everything they had at us. So we had to make sure that we were prepared for that and try to calm the first five, ten minutes and try to build momentum off that. I thought our guys did that pretty well.”
With their backs against the wall, the Dutchmen played strong in the second period, putting Elmira on their heels as Kitchener’s Brandon Grandinetti and Steven Farano evened the playing field 2-2, both on the power play, to finish off the second.
Ben Morris, Ashton Stockie (2) and Luke Bignell assisted.
“We just got away from how we wanted to play, we didn’t carry the momentum we had in the first into the second. We sort of got back on our heels again and Kitchener came out again like they needed to, scored on some power plays to get themselves back in the game,” Canal said.
The game seemed destined to head into overtime, until 15:24 in the third, when Kitchener’s goalie stepped out of his net to send the puck up the ice. Skinner picked up the loose puck and fired it at the net, where two Dutchmen dove to block it, but it slipped right through them.
Jake Brown and Jeremey Goodwin assisted Skinner.
The Sugar Kings sealed the deal with two empty netters from captain Jeff Jordan, one unassisted at 18:58, and one helped in by Spencer Comelli at 19:43 to take Game 6 5-2, and send Kitchener packing for the season.
Jon Reinhart made 37 saves for Elmira.
And in the last minute of play, when it was clear the Kings were going to take it, Canal yelled to his players to hold the bench.
Tensions flared, as they do, and Andrew McIntyre swapped words with a Dutchman from the bench. But, assistant coach Trent Brown quickly reeled him in, reminding him “champions don’t chirp.”
The Kings took their first lead in the series on Mar. 22 at home, where Jordan paced the team to their 4-2 win with two goals in the first period.
Kitchener started off the series strong with a 4-2 and a 3-2 win. Elmira took the next four, starting at home 7-4, 4-3 in overtime in Kitchener, 4-2 at home, and 5-2 on Friday in Kitchener.
“Anytime you get to go on to the next round there’s definitely excitement. For some of these guys it’s their first time and other guys it’s their last time, so it’s exciting for all of them for different reasons. They should be excited, it’s a good thing. And especially being able to battle back the way that we did in that series,” Canal said.
To defeat Listowel, Canal says they’ll have to find what worked in the Kitchener series and then build from there.
The Listowel Cyclones have home-ice advantage for the Cherrey Cup final that starts in Listowel Friday (Mar. 31) at 7:30 p.m.
As the Kings prepare to head up the 86 to Listowel, they’re sure to be followed by their fans, which was evidenced by the long line of cars heading back into Elmira after Friday night’s game.
Canal says the players thrive off their fans’ excitement.
“Elmira’s got a great following. They take pride in it and the guys see it and the guys enjoy that. I thought it was really cool after the game how many kids were there seeing the guys coming off the ice. It was awesome. Guys see that and guys enjoy that because that’s what it’s all about too,” Canal said.
“Hockey’s about the community, hockey’s about one another, hockey’s about family and hockey’s about having fun. When you have people willing to travel a distance to watch you play the guys take notice and they care about that.”
Game 2 is in Elmira on Apr. 2 at 2 p.m. Game 3 is back in Listowel on Apr. 4 at 7:30 p.m. and Game 4 is in Elmira on Apr. 5 at 7:30 p.m.
Games 5, 6 and 7, if necessary, will go Apr. 7 (7:30 p.m.) in Listowel, Apr. 9 (7 p.m.) in Elmira and Apr. 10 (7:30 p.m.) in Listowel.