The Sugar Kings ended their regular season with a bang last weekend, as the team picked up a pair of wins to secure the third place in Midwestern Conference.
Playing the Siskins in Waterloo Saturday evening, Elmira pulled off a 6-4 victory in what was a quintessential four-point game against their main competition in the standings. The following afternoon, the Kings were back in their barn for a matinee against the Brantford 99ers, and averted a loss with a last-minute goal to settle the game 4-3 in overtime.
Waterloo, though, was the team to beat this weekend. The Siskins were neck and neck with the Kings for the third-place spot as both team’s headed into the final weekend before the playoffs. The game was a microcosm of that, a back-and-forth match before the Kings pulled ahead to take the win.
“We’ve been playing playoff hockey for a month-and-half, two months,” said head coach Trent Brown. “We felt it was important for us to get third and to actually end the year on as high a note as we possibly could, and I would say we definitely did that.”
The Kings certainly got off to a good start that game, earning two points early in the first period. Ethan Skinner (Jeremey Goodwin, Ethan Wiseman) scored a power play marker just 1:23 into the game. Then, a few minutes later, Wiseman put the Kings up 2-0, with Tyler McBay and Jeff Jordan picking up assists.
The scoreboard was looking to stay that way, but with less than two minutes on the clock the Siskins responded with a power play goal of their own, sending the teams into intermission with the score at 2-1. Just before the buzzer, however, Elmira’s Braydon Munn took a hit that had him leaving the ice in a daze.
“He’s OK, he’s fine. He just got his bell rung there,” said Brown.
From the second frame on, the Kings struggled to hold onto their lead. At 8:12, Waterloo potted their second of the match, sweeping the puck into the corner of the net and putting them in a dead-heat with Elmira.
Sugar King Tyler Beauparlant (Ty Biles, Ryan Takamatsu) responded on the power play minutes later, putting the Kings back into the lead. Elmira just couldn’t shake their rivals, however, who knotted the game at 3-3 at 14:51.
The clock was counting down, and just as it looked like they would be heading off the ice with a tie, the deciding point came. With less than 30 seconds to go, Goodwin (Skinner, Jordan) came in for the final tie-breaker, setting the Kings up 4-3 ahead of the final frame.
The Kings had the lead once more and this time they ran with it. Five minutes into the third, Jordan (Takamatsu) put the Kings up 5-3 with a shorty. Waterloo came back in the final minutes of the game with an extra attacker, but were swatted back down when Goodwin (Skinner) potted the team’s sixth and final point of the match at 18:35.
“All around, [it was] a good game on our end, and I was happy with the results,” said Brown.
The following afternoon, the Kings were back on home ice for the last match of the regular season. They were facing the Brantford 99ers – and while the 99ers occupied a spot in the standings several places below the Kings, they turned out to be stiff competition. The Kings needed overtime to take two points from Brantford.
“They’re a good team,” said Brown. “They’ve got some firepower, as well. I wouldn’t say they’re as deep as any other teams that are out there, but their top guys are just as dangerous as anybody else in the league.”
Like the evening before, the Kings were up 2-0 before the other team had a chance to respond. Five minute into the first, Takamatsu (Goodwin, Skinner) drew the first blood of the match, and at 18:13 Marcel Berube (Goodwin, Wiseman) came back for seconds. The team was up by two as they headed off into intermission.
The second period turned out to be anything but comfortable, however, as the visiting team came back with two fast ones. Brantford forward Christian Polillo scored near back-to-back goals at the six-minute mark, knotting up the teams at 2-2 for the remainder of the middle frame.
“That Polillo has 26 goals,” said Brown, commending the team’s players. “Latta, I think he’s a heck of a player – he’s a point-per-game kind of guy. And their blue line is pretty good. That Devins-Cann’s a good player, even that Farmer-Valente’s a good player. I’d say on paper they’re better than their record shows. They’re dangerous, they can strike with the best of them, I would say.”
Dangerous is right as in the final stanza, the visitors pulled into the lead 3-2 with a power play marker at 8:27. The Kings struggled to even the count, and it was not until the final two minutes of play that Skinner (Goodwin, Takamatsu) was able to save the game with an extra attacker on ice.
“That was awesome,” said Brown of the tying goal. “Our guys really have an instinct for the big-time moments and the big-time goals.
“Jeremey Goodwin took that puck and found Skinny (Skinner) off the back door there, and that was a great play by both of them to take the ice and get that shot off.”
That took the teams into overtime where after four minutes Berube (Damian Figueira) lodged his second in the 99ers net, ending the game 4-3.
With the Kings taking home two wins this weekend, and the Waterloo team suffering two losses (the second on Friday against Stratford), the Kings could smoothly slide into third place. That places them in direct opposition with the sixth-place Brampton Bombers in the playoffs.
Elmira has had a good track record against the Bombers this season, meaning they have to be feeling pretty confident about the first round of the playoffs.
“Definitely. I mean, I don’t want to be confident in the sense that we can beat Brampton, I want to be confident in the sense that we’re confident in ourselves and our abilities,” said Brown.
“You know, we don’t want to look past Brampton – they beat Listowel on Sunday in their last [regular season] game in order to get sixth place,” he pointed out. Listowel was the top dog in the regular season with 88 pts, versus second-place Stratford’s 76 pts and Sugar Kings’ 58.
The playoffs started with its first match last night (Wednesday) in Elmira. The next game is scheduled for tomorrow evening in Brampton, starting at 7:30 p.m. After that, the Kings will be back on home ice this Sunday for a 7 p.m. game. Following the weekend, the Kings will be having another home game on March 7 starting at 7:30 p.m.