With three wins under their belts, the Elmira Sugar Kings just need one more to become the unlikely winners of the Sutherland Cup as the province’s top Junior B team.
After earning themselves the wildcard spot in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League playoffs, the Kings defeated the defending-champion Caledonia Corvairs and are now in the midst of the finals series against the London Nationals, a team they have never played in the regular season.
The series sits at 3-0 as of press time, with Game 4 happening on Wednesday night in Elmira.
Head coach Ty Canal says the team is just focused on playing their best game, especially against an opponent they are unfamiliar with.
“We had to go in with the mindset of just playing our game and adjust when we need to and adjust when we have to and just go from there. It has obviously worked out alright,” he said after the team’s Game 3 win Sunday in Elmira. “Our mindset going into the series was just to make sure that we are playing our game and we are concentrating on what we do well, and when we don’t, that is when we get into trouble.”
Game 1, on Apr. 26, was tight with a final score of 3-2 for the Kings. Elmira was significantly outshot in their first game against the Nationals, notching only 24 shots to London’s 40.
The Nationals started scoring in the first with a marker from Quinn Lenihan on the power play, assisted by Ethan Nother. Elmira was quick to fire back with a power play goal of their own from Ethan Skinner, assisted by Jeff Jordan and Jake Brown, less than a minute later.
Elmira owned the second period with two goals getting past London’s netminder Cameron Zanussi. The first coming from Jordan on the power play, and the second, from Ty Biles less than 30 seconds later. Assists went to Mitch Hoelscher (2), Brown and Brock Philips.
London tried to stay in the game with a goal from Austin Kemp in the third, but it wasn’t enough, and Elmira recorded the win.
Game 2 was all about the Kings, with goalie Jonathan Reinhart saving his way to a playoff shutout with a final score of 2-0, despite facing a whopping 49 shots on goal from London.
The Kings’ two goals came from Jacob Black in the first, with a shorthanded marker from Andrew McIntyre in the second period. Assists went to Tyler McBay, Philips and Brown.
Game 3 started out slow for the Kings, with London starting the goal count in the first. The Nationals’ Kemp scored first on the power play with help from Brenden Trottier and Lenihan. However, that would be it for London.
Elmira dominated the rest of the scoreboard with four goals in eight minutes in the second period. The first was put past Zanussi by Quinten Bruce, unassisted. Klayton Hoelscher scored on the power play two minutes later, with help from Skinner and Brown. Skinner scored an unassisted, shorthanded marker at 9:46 in the second, bringing the count to three. Mitch Hoelscher rounded out the score with another power play marker, assisted by Jordan and Klayton Hoelscher. The rest of the game was all about stopping London’s scoring chances.
Canal says even with the three wins in a row, the Nationals have presented a challenge for the Kings. There are still a few spots where he would like to see the guys improve for Game 4 and beyond. However, the result still came out in their favour. In Game 3, it was all about avoiding penalties.
“I think we were chasing the puck in the first period, but in the first, we were shorthanded for a lot of that. That is where we get on our heels. You lose momentum and you lose everything when that starts to happen. Your focus shifts, and that is something that we have talked about all season, but that was a big focus on Sunday going into the second,” he said. “If you keep giving a team, especially a team like London, opportunities, you don’t want it to backfire on you. You don’t want that. I thought we did a lot better of a job in the second especially and the third period.”
In the first three games of the series, the Nationals had a whopping 125 shots on goal to Elmira’s 77, but Canal says not to be misled by the numbers. For the Kings, it is about quality versus quantity.
“A lot of those shots, they were looking for rebounds, or they were shooting to the outside to get our defense turned in and you know, don’t get me wrong, they had some point blank shots as well, but that is when Jonny (Reinhart) is Jonny,” he said. “We knew they had a high-profile, high attack offense, and we expected that they were going to shoot the puck a lot and get guys to the net and all that, so I don’t think we are overly concerned about the number of shots over quality. You have to limit their quality shots. They have guys that can score and that can turn the momentum and turn a game around in a hurry. But, if we can keep the shots like we did in Game 3, we would be a lot happier.”
Should Elmira drop Game 4, Game 5 is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on May 5 in London. If necessary, the series could be brought back to Elmira on May 7 at 2 p.m. Game 7 is slated for May 8 at 7:30 p.m. in London.