The Sugar Kings are looking for a little Christmas magic this weekend to reverse last week’s skid.
In Guelph December 21, the Kings fell 2-1 to the Hurricanes, returning home Sunday for yet another hit in the form of a 4-2 loss to Stratford.
Thursday’s match against the Hurricanes saw the Kings take nothing for granted, the two teams having exchanged lopsided victories this season. They had every reason to be cautious stepping onto the ice. The game was hard fought, and while the Kings outshot the Hurricanes 30-23, it wasn’t enough to swing the difference.
For the first 20 minutes of play, neither side could make a dent. It was not until the second period when, almost right from the get-go, the Hurricanes potted their first marker of the night.
Guelph was up 1-0 hardly a minute into the second, but the Kings promptly answered with one of their own soon after. At 7:55, Ethan Wiseman found the back of the opponent’s net, with Kurtis Goodwin and Zack Cameron picking up assists.
The game went into an even rhythm right up until the final two minutes of the period when Guelph broke the tie with their second of the night, sending them off the ice up 2-1.
The final stanza of the game turned out to be just as stubborn as the first, leaving the Kings behind in a one-goal rut. Not helping, the Kings lost Wiseman to the box at 10:58 for the remainder of the game. The Kings pulled their netminder, Tyler Mazzocato, in the final minute of play, but it wasn’t enough to make the difference, and the game ultimately ended in a 2-1 defeat.
“I thought against Guelph we dictated the pace of the game, for the majority of it,” noted head coach Trent Brown.
“I can think of right now, off the top, about five or six opportunities that we just didn’t capitalize on again. That we could have opened up the game wide open.”
Returning from Thursday’s game, the Kings had a few days to recuperate before they were back on home ice Sunday afternoon. This time, they were facing-off against the second-place Stratford Warriors.
From the start, it was going to be a tough battle, but the Kings drew first blood. Jeremey Goodwin, the team’s point leader, potted the opening goal at 11:20, with assists going to Ethan Skinner and Wiseman.
The Elmira team had about five minutes of glory, however, before the Warriors answered on the power play, sending both teams off the ice in a dead-even heat.
The second period was the reverse, with Stratford picking up the first goal at 9:50, followed by the Kings at 15:25. Once again, it was Goodwin who potted it, with new defensive acquisition Braydon Munn and Skinner claiming assists.
“I think just working the areas that puts me and my teammates in a spot to succeed is what’s working for me right now,” said Goodwin immediately after the game of his two goals. “Hopefully I can keep doing that.”
The Kings were in top form during the second period, playing fast and lean on the ice and holding the Stratford team at a 2-2 stalemate.
“Yeah, I’d agree there,” said Goodwin about their play in the second period. “For the most part, I felt that we put ourselves up for a good chance to win the game tonight. Unfortunately, we just came up short.”
However heading into the third, Elmira seemed to be losing steam. They seemed a bit more sluggish out on the ice, a bit more worn, and the Warriors capitalized.
Barely a minute-and-a-half in, Stratford potted the tiebreaking goal, putting them up one over the home team; and from there they didn’t look back.
“Third one, the guy got behind us again,” noted Brown. “[Stratford] were smart and put pucks to good spots, the guys got below us there in D-zone.”
The final nail in the coffin came at 17:05, when some fast footwork allowed Stratford’s Ryan Nicholson to pot on unassisted. The Kings pulled their goalie Mazzocato, but a penalty in the final minute of play forced Mazzocato back onto the ice to guard the net.
“On the fourth one, [Nicholson] made a great shot. We made a terrible line change and they took advantage of it,” said Brown. “They’re a good team and when you give them opportunities like that, then they’ll definitely make you pay.
“It was right off a D-zone face-off and we got possession of it, and we ran our face-off play that we wanted to,” he recalled. “We got the puck out of the zone but didn’t get it deep.”
The buzzer sounded with the final score resting at 4-2 in favour of Stratford. In the contest of the special teams, the Kings killed six of their seven penalties, but failed to capitalize on any of their six power plays.
“I thought we competed really hard tonight, we stuck to our systems a lot better,” said Goodwin. “Everyone put the team first and we came up a little short tonight, but it was a much better effort all around.”
The Kings face a difficult end to the year, as after playing the second-place Warriors (23-8) on Sunday, they’ll be taking on the first-place Listowel Cyclones (28-4) and third-place Waterloo Siskins (17-11-0-2) before going on a Christmas hiatus. The Kings are trailing the Siskins in fourth place with a record of 17-16.
“It’s a good measuring stick for where we’re at,” said Brown of the final three games of 2017.
The Kings will be playing their last two games back-to-back this weekend. First on Friday in Listowel followed by a Saturday match in Waterloo. They’ll then have a two-week break before returning to the ice January 6.