The Sugar Kings now face the Listowel Cyclones for the Cherrey Cup after defeating the Stratford Warriors to advance to the third round of the GOJHL playoffs.
After Stratford evened the series at 2-2 last week, the Kings bounced back to take the next two matches, eliminating the Warriors in six games. The Cyclones needed seven games to get past the Waterloo Siskins on Monday night.
Elmira will be looking to stay hot, building on victories of 4-2 and 3-2 that followed the 6-3 loss March 21 that essentially made it a best-of-three series.
“I think as a team, we’ve definitely been playing a lot better these last two, three weeks specifically,” said Elmira head coach Trent Brown. “I think we’re doing what it takes to win, but we’re also executing on a lot of other details of the game.”
Going into the March 21 game at the WMC, the Kings were up 2-1 in the best-of-seven series against Stratford. It was a good place to be for the Kings, as the Warriors had dominated the regular season in second-place, ahead of the third-place Sugar Kings.
The first-period that evening belonged to the Kings, who went up 2-0 on goals by Zack Cameron (Tyler Beauparlant, Braydon Munn) and Matt MacKay (Mason McMahon, Ty Biles).
The tide started to turn in the second, however, as Stratford tied up the score before the halfway point. The Kings were briefly back in front 3-2 a couple of minutes later when Ethan Skinner capitalized on a power-play opportunity, assisted by Marcel Berube and Ryan Takamatsu. But that would be it for Elmira’s scoring, while Stratford kept on rolling.
Before the buzzer sounded, the Warriors had notched another pair to take a 4-3 lead into the intermission.
It was a one-goal game for most of the final stanza, right up until the final minutes of the game. At 17:24 the Warriors made it 5-3, prompting the Kings to pull netminder Tyler Mazzocato in favour of an extra skater. The conventional gambit didn’t work, however, as Stratford found the empty net to make it a 6-3 final.
Heading back to Stratford, the Kings knew game five March 23 would be a crucial win.
Skinner (Jeremey Goodwin, Takamatsu) drew first blood at 3:08. It was a good start, but the Warriors responded with a power play marker with just over two minutes to go and then went up 2-1 on a buzzer-beater that clocked in at 19:59.
The Kings were down but certainly not out, as the only scoring for the remainder of the match came from the visitors.
At 6:35 of the second, Berube knotted things up, with Skinner picking up the assist. Ethan Wiseman (Cameron) then came in with the game-winning goal at 17:45.
It was 3-2 as the players entered the final stanza and nobody was leaving anything to chance. The trenches were dug, the lines were holding, and there were few prime chances on either side. The only puck to find the back of a net was early on, at 5:20, from Wiseman (Jeff Jordan). It was a tight affair, but the Kings won out in the end by holding on for a 4-2 final score.
Returning up 3-2 in the series, the Kings looked to finish off the Warriors in front of a home crowd on Sunday. Skating out onto the ice, the Kings were greeted by the roar of crowd almost 1,000 strong. And perhaps it was the energy in the building or the chanting of “Go Kings, Go!” that did it, but the Kings pulled through with a win: 3-2, in overtime.
Until that point, neither team had won a home game in the series, so when Stratford potted the first goal just two minutes in, it seemed likely the Kings were heading for another defeat. The squad, however, dug in their heels and fought back, though it was not until the second frame that they had a chance to respond.
Kurtis Goodwin, from Spencer Comelli, knotted things up at 2:17. His goal was followed just over a minute later by another from Wiseman, a power play marker with assists from Takamatsu and the elder Goodwin brother, Jeremey. The Kings were up now 2-1 as they headed into second intermission.
Less than a minute into the third, the Warriors shot right out of the gate with an unassisted power play marker by forward Sean Ross. The game was now in a dead heat at 2-2, and both teams were fighting it out for the deciding goal before the buzzer went again. But it never came.
That meant the game would be settled in overtime. But it was no drawn-out affair, as Skinner needed just 99 seconds to end the game … and Stratford’s playoff hopes.
“It was amazing. Everyone just hopped off (the bench),” said Kurtis Goodwin right after the game. “I didn’t even see it go in. I just saw the ref put his hand out and everyone jumped up. It was awesome. Everybody was screaming, having fun. The best feeling.”
About the series-winning goal, Skinner commended his teammates for getting the puck to him.
“I was just trying to get the puck to the net,” said Skinner. “I got a good pass in the slot.”
After the celebration, the Kings had to shift gears, getting ready to face the Listowel Cyclones in a Cherrey Cup final rematch, looking to ride the wave of victories thus far in the playoffs.
“I think we’re just clicking at the right time,” said Skinner. “We had a couple of low spots in the middle of the season but right now everyone is firing on all cylinders and everyone’s working for each other, so we’re going to try and keep that up over the next series.”
The Kings head to Listowel Friday for an 8 p.m. start. Game two of the series is back in Elmira on Sunday at 7 p.m.