There’s no such thing as a sure thing when it comes to hockey, and it was a lesson the Kings had to learn the hard way this weekend. Facing two teams they’d previously had little trouble with this season, the Listowel Cyclones and Brantford 99ers, the Kings wound up with just one of the four points up for grabs.
The lack of production likely contributed to Monday’s dismissal of head coach Trent Brown, who was abruptly fired after the weekend’s performance. Taking over the position from Brown is assistant coach Rob Collins.
Battling the Cyclones in Listowel last Friday, Elmira fell for the first time this season to the team currently sitting in second place in the Midwestern Conference, in this case by a particularly unsettling 5-1 score.
On Sunday, the fourth-place Kings returned for a home match against the visiting seventh-place Brantford 99ers. What should have been another easy two points was cut in half when an additional ten minutes of overtime and an end-of-game penalty shot were not enough to break a 3-3 impasse between the two teams, each picking up a point.
In a conference as tight as this one, with the top five teams within ten points of one another, the missed opportunities saw the Kings fall to fourth place with 42 points, versus Listowel’s 47 in second place. A normal four-point weekend against Listowel and Brantford would have put the Kings in a direct tie with Listowel for second place at 45 points each.
Listowel was always going to be a tough challenger for the Kings, though, no matter how one-sided the record, but Friday’s night’s match proved to be an especially rank affair for the visitors. It didn’t start that way, however, and for much of the game the Kings held a narrow lead over their opponents.
Zack Cameron potted the first goal of the match 19:17 into the first on a power play, with Jonah Burley, Mason McMahon picking up the assist. It would be the only point of the first two frames from either side, with the Kings able to hold their opponents at bay well into the third at a 1-0 difference.
By the final stanza, however, the bottom seemed to drop out for the visitors. The Cyclones ratcheted up their game severely, lodging three goals in quick succession, including two on the power play, to make it 3-1 for the final few minutes of play. Another two empty-netters were added to end the game at 5-1.
Dropping two points to Listowel, the Kings might have hoped to make up the difference at their Sunday matinee against the visiting Brantford 99ers. The Kings had beaten the team at all four of their previous meetings – in October by an 8-0 spread – but the 99ers had come prepared.
Brantford got the first goal this time around. Down two players to the box, the 99ers were nonetheless able to score shorthanded at 11:27 of the first, setting the competitive tone for the rest of the match. Elmira newcomer Ivan Brewer (Hunter Dubecki) responded minutes later on a power play to make in 1-1 by the first intermission.
The second saw the Kings pull into the lead with a goal from Tyson Hillier (Brewer, Dubecki) seven minutes in. Brantford responded to make even things up at 2-2, but the Kings again found the back of the net to make it 3-2 at 16 minutes. The second tie breaker came from Anthony, with Brewer and Dubecki picking up their second and third assists of the day, respectively.
The Kings were up 3-2 going into the final 20 minutes of play, but Brantford refused to give in. Less than five minutes into the final frame, Brantford once again found the back of the net with their second power play marker to make it a make it 3-3, forcing the two teams to settle things in overtime. Even then, the stalemate persisted despite a few very close calls.
The make-it-or-break-it moment came at the very end of the game, when a hooking infraction from Brantford earned the Sugar Kings a final penalty shot to decide the game. The player taking the shot would be Cameron, Elmira’s top scorer this season with 13 goals in 32 games.
However, Brantford netminder Frank Boal proved up for the challenge. Cameron chased the puck down for the win, but was single-handedly shut down by the goalie, denying Elmira the victory and ending the game as a 3-3 tie.
Though taking a severe hit in what ought to have been a four-point weekend, the Kings will have plenty of chances to pull back into the running as they enter the final third of the 50 game regular season – though now under the direction of new head coach Collins.
On Friday, the Kings will be in Stratford for a 7:30 p.m. game against the Warriors. Sunday will see the Kings return home for a 2 p.m. rematch against Listowel.