With a starting lineup coming together and a roster in the making, the Sugar Kings kicked off the pre-season with back-to-back wins and a loss.
Competing August 19 in Kitchener against the Dutchmen, the Kings made out like bandits with a 7-1 victory. Riding the momentum into last week, the Kings next battled the Listowel Cyclones, the champions of the 2017-18 Sutherland Cup series, on home ice August 22, and came out on top in overtime with a 2-1 victory.
A second home game last Sunday, however, saw the Kings finally fall to the visiting Kitchener Dutchmen, back for revenge, in a 4-2 decision, with an empty netter capping off the match.
Still, for the Kings, who are still in the process of putting together their lineup for the 2018-19 season, the exhibition games are all about bringing the returning players and new recruits together into a single working team.
“I think we’ve got a great group of guys,” said Luke Israel, one of the newcomers to the team. “They seem pretty deep and I really like our group, we’ve got some good characters. I mean, it’s been a pretty good pre-season so far.”
Taking to the ice for their first exhibition game against the Kitchener Dutchmen, August 19, the Kings swept the Dutchmen aside with a 7-1 win.
The first period saw Elmira put three on the board, with newcomer Liam Fayle, drawing first blood for the Kings on an unassisted power play less than three minutes in.
Showing off their mettle, the newbies continued to put more markers on the board. Brett Allen (Derek Jensen, Cole Altman) sent a second one into the back of the net at the 10-minute mark, and Derek Jensen (Kurtis Goodwin) came in for a third with 30 seconds left on the clock.
“They’re awesome,” said Kings veteran Jeremy Goodwin of the new players. “We’re just starting to get to know each other now and we’re starting to gel quickly.”
A minute into the second frame, Kitchener came in for their lone point of the match, ending the shutout bid by new netminders Matt Woroniuk and Bryce Detweiller.
Israel (Jakson Kirk) responded, however, with their fourth point of the game, 45 seconds before the end of the period.
A Waterloo native, Israel grew up playing in the local minor leagues before moving at the age of 14. In 2016-17, he played Junior A for the Bonnyville Pontiacs in Alberta, and then took a year hiatus from the game.
“This past year I took a step away from the game for a bit. I came back and had the opportunity to play here, and I couldn’t turn it down,” he said.
Entering into the final 20 minutes of play, the Kings continued to dominate, racking up another three goals. Evan Gowing (Parker Miller) scored at 9:31, Isaac Taylor (Brett Allen) at 13:15, and Dillion Hunter (Joe Jordan, Brody Waters) on the power play at 15:52, capping the game off with a final tally of 7-1.
In the special teams category, the Kings claimed two of their available five power play markers. Playing a tight game, the Elmira team gave the opposition a lone power play opportunity, which Kitchener loss.
Following through on the victory, the Kings went on to play the visiting Listowel Cyclones August 22, and walked away with a narrow 2-1 win.
This game turned out to be a much tighter affair, with neither side able to put one in the net until the second frame.
Newcomer Hunter potted the lone goal of the period at the 8-minute mark, with Mitt Toten picking up the assist.
It was 1-0 as the Kings headed into the final 20 minutes of play. Looking to knot things up, Listowel came up with a goal of their own on the power play, forcing the two teams run into overtime.
The game winning goal, ultimately, came from Elmira’s Hunter, sending a second rocket into the back of the net, with Allen and Anthony Azzano picking up assists, and ending the game on a 2-1 note.
The power play balance fell to the Cyclones, who got seven opportunities and capitalized on one. The Kings got four power plays, but fell short of working the man advantage.
Coming off the victory against Listowel, the Kings had the momentum going into last Sunday’s game against the Kitchener Dutchmen, but ultimately fell 4-2.
The game was especially scrappy, with both sides getting fire up, and several face-to-face confrontations, and few skirmishes between the players breaking out.
“It was chippy,” agreed Israel. “But you know, we’ve got a bunch of guys that will stand up for each other. We’re a pretty tight-knit group.”
Kitchener’s Jacob Schnittke took the lead with an unassisted play, six minutes into the first – the lone goal of the period.
The Kings knotted things back up 15 minutes into second, with Jeremy Goodwin (Tyson Hiller, Hunter Dubinski) putting one on the board.
Opening the final frame, less than two minutes in Kitchener took the lead on the power play. J. Goodwin responded with a second tying goal of the match at 10:48, with Dubinski again picking up the assist.
Kitchener came back moments later with a third goal, again putting the Kings down by a goal.
With the clock counting down to zero, the Kings made the classic gambit and pulled their goalie in the final minutes of play, leaving their net wide open for a final point by the Dutchmen, and ending the game 4-2.
In the battle of the special teams, the Sugar Kings were 0-7 while the Dutchmen claimed 1-4.
Suffering a defeat at the hands of Dutchmen, the Kings will have a shot at some comeuppance at the Activa Sportsplex tomorrow (Friday). The puck drops at 7 p.m. The Kings will then be facing off against the Cyclones for a second time on Monday in Listowel.
“It’s exciting to be back, I think we got a good group here this year. We’re excited to get thinks going,” said Jeremy Goodwin, one of the retuning Kings from last year. “We’re excited. We think we got a good group. We think if we work hard and practice and really buy in this year, I think we’re going to be successful.”
On whether Elmira will be able to reclaim its 2017 Sutherland Cup championship title, Goodwin is circumspect.
“That’s the goal,” he said. “That’s the goal.”