The Sugar Kings fell in their home-opener Sunday at the WMC, dropping a 1-0 decision to the Guelph Hurricanes. It was their fourth straight loss.
More than 500 people came out to see the opener, with all but one of the returning players joining the Kings on the ice ahead of the game for the unveiling of the Sutherland Cup champion banner and ring presentation.
“That was pretty fantastic. It gave a lot of the guy’s chills that I was talking to after the game. We made a lot of memories last year and it was fantastic seeing everybody back – the whole team made it back except for one player, so it was pretty fantastic to see everybody, check in with them and see what they are doing in their lives and seeing them take their next steps,” said new head coach Trent Brown, who was an assistant with last year’s squad. “It was a great ceremony, the management did a great job designing the rings and it was great seeing everyone again.”
The Kings could perhaps be excused for Sunday’s performance, blaming the result on a post-celebration letdown.
While not a bad game, there was no more celebrating that day.
With two Sugar Kings in the box at just four minutes into the game, Guelph’s Mathieu Mercier scored what would be the only goal of the game.
“Both teams were playing strong defensive hockey. There wasn’t a lot of obviously sustained pressure at either end. That is common at the start of the season in the early games,” said Brown. “But we definitely missed an opportunity there on Sunday to get two points.”
Although Elmira didn’t make the score sheet for goals, they racked up the penalties throughout the game with a total of 13, playing half of the game in the box for a range of infractions, from high sticking and slashing to charging and head contact. Guelph racked up nine penalties of their own, but spent much less time in the bin.
A last-minute push saw netminder Tyler Mazzacato pulled in favour of a sixth skater, to no avail. In fact, there was another penalty as the buzzer sounded.
Facing 38 shots on net, Hurricane goalie Jet Greaves saved everything to post the shutout. Mazzacato was able to stop 24 of the 25 shots he saw.
“We didn’t test him as much as I would have liked to,” Brown said of Kings offence on Greaves. “We had a lot of shots from the perimeter and a lot of shots that he saw relatively easy any good goalie in this league should make those saves. I would have liked to see our guys make life on him a little harder especially this early in the year.”
Looking forward, Brown says he will be working on improving the team’s power play to help generate more of an offensive force, one that the team needs to get those wins.
“It has been a key to our success in the past, but again that is a system that we are kind of integrating on the fly. As we go, it hasn’t been a point of focus early on in the year, but that is definitely something we need to do is generate offense on the power play.”
Although Brown hasn’t had a win yet as head coach, he remains optimistic.
“Our commitment is to win. We want to win our last game of the season. But what we want to focus on now is putting ourselves in that position to win every game as we focus on the little things and the details of each game. We will give ourselves the opportunity to be competitive night in and night out, and the rest will take care of itself by the time playoffs come around,” he said.
The reigning Sutherland Cup champs are in last place of the Midwestern Conference after four games, as they head into their next game against the first-place Stratford Warriors, who are coming into Friday undefeated after four games.
“Stratford is always a unique and sometimes intimidating place to play hockey. With their whole barn and crowd support,” Brown noted. “That being said, they have a good team. They have had a lot of offensive production already so we will be looking to stop that, obviously, and increase our shot total in the small barn they have there.”
The Kings return home Sunday for a 7 p.m. rematch against Guelph.