A narrow miss and a narrow hit characterized the Sugar Kings’ weekend, as the Elmira team took on some of the toughest competition of the Midwestern Conference and split the difference.
While the stormy weather may have canceled some games on the junior hockey schedule, including in Brampton, Niagara Falls and the neighbouring Junior C Wellesley, the Waterloo Siskins had little trouble making the short jaunt to Elmira for a Saturday night matchup.
The Kings may have wished they’d stayed at home with some hot cocoa instead, however, as the Waterloo contingent defended their top spot in the conference with a 5-4 decision. Taking the loss in stride, the Kings were back at home the following night where they edged out the visiting Listowel Cyclones – but only just. The Kings were trailing the Cyclones 2-1 well into the third that night, when a pair of shorthanded markers from Elmira’s Jacob Black rescued the game from almost certain defeat.
After falling to the Cyclones at their last two meetings, the victory Sunday came as a welcome about-face for a team that recently replaced its head coach.
“It was very key,” said the Sugar Kings’ new head coach, Rob Collins, of the victory. Collins took over the job two weeks ago after the team fired Trent Brown.
“I think in the first three games since I’ve been head coach, two of them we had full control of and we ended up getting a loss,” he said. “I thought that was the case again on Sunday, and we kind of fell into some habits where we took some penalties. But they battled through it and persevered … and got a good win against Listowel, which I hope kind of kicks starts us in the right direction.”
Saturday night’s game against Waterloo was not so auspicious, however, as the visitors pulled out the rug from under the Kings in the third act. Waterloo took the lead in this game with a goal seven minutes in, but were quickly overtaken by the Kings.
Down 1-0, the Kings rallied, potting the next three goals in three minutes. Ivan Brewer (Hunter Dubecki, Karson Massey) found his mark first at 10 minutes, and then a second time just a minute later (Dubecki, Damian Figueira). Black (Jakson Kirk, Zack Cameron) rounded out the scoring frenzy at 13 minutes to make it 3-1 by the first intermission.
“Ivan’s been great since the day he’s been here,” said Collins of Elmira’s top shooter that night. “He’s led through example with his work ethic, and I believe that will prove to be infectious throughout the whole team. Nothing bad to say about Ivan that’s for sure. He’s a workhorse that we’re going to rely on.”
If the first period belonged to the Kings, the second was all Siskins. Waterloo hit the ice running with a power play marker just two minutes from the resumption of play. Elmira’s Dubecki responded at four minutes to make it 4-2 for the Kings, with Brewer and Tyson Hillier this time lending the assist.
Waterloo steadily closed the gap, however, potting their third at the halfway point of the frame, and then their fourth at 17:23 to make it a dead even 4-4 by the second intermission.
Up by two early in the second, the Kings had slipped into a neck-and-neck race for the finish line in the final 20 minutes of play.
The deciding goal came at 7:24 off stick of Waterloo’s Alex Lycett, putting the Kings on the short end of a 5-4 difference. The Elmira team pulled all the stops, though not their punches, with another fight sending one of each team to the showers. The pugilism did little for the scoreboard, however, and the game ran its course without another goal coming.
Power plays proved to a major factor in this game, with the Waterloo contingent scoring twice on four man-advantages, and the Kings in turn squandering all five of their opportunities without a goal.
“We were in full control that game against Waterloo, and then we ran into penalty trouble and they capitalized,” said Collins. “And they’re not in first place because they don’t capitalize on opportunities. So we need to recognize situations that we’re in, and make more disciplined decisions.”
Falling in a one-point game Saturday night, the Kings would go on to win their next game along a similar margin. Welcoming the Listowel Cyclones to Elmira, Sunday, the fourth-place Kings played their distant third-place opponents to a 3-2 victory.
The game began on less than stellar footing, though, as just 36 seconds from the drop, the Listowel squad potted their first point. Cyclones’ Chayse Herrfort drove an unassisted puck into the Sugar Kings’ net, ensuring the home team would spend the rest of the evening playing catch-up.
Elmira’s Harrison Toms (Kirk, Matthew Tolton) was able to knot things up 1-1 before the first intermission, but Listowel clawed back their lead 10:40 into the second to make it 2-1 for the final 20 minutes of play.
The Kings continued to trail their opponents well into the third, until a remarkable one-two punch from Sugar Kings’ forward Jacob Black turned the game completely on its head. Black knotted the scores 2-2 on a short-handed play at 12:13 (Anthony Azzano, Toms), and then slotted a second point at 14 minutes (Cameron) while still down a man.
The pair of points put the Kings on right side of a 3-2 division, which is how the game would end that night.
Special teams proved to be the wild card in this game, as Listowel had seven man-advantages over the 60 minutes, but scored on none, while the Kings earned two, scored on none, but then picked up two shorthanded markers instead.
“I thought our penalty kill, not just Jacob Black – I know Jacob scored two big goals for us shorthanded – but our penalty kill as a whole I believe was a main reason why we were able to win that game,” said Collins. “Listowel’s power play, with those top three guys that they have, when they gain the opportunity they can really make it hurt against you. So our penalty kill stepped up.”
After Sunday night’s rally, the Kings will be looking to carry that momentum as they head into the coming weekend. On Saturday, the Kings will be in Brantford for a 7 p.m. match against the 99ers, but the real challenge comes the day after when the Kings travel to Waterloo for a matinee starting at 1:30 p.m.
The Kings will be on the road for the next two weeks as the Woolwich Memorial Centre hosts the CurlOn Provincial Men & Women’s Curling Championships, which kicks off January 27. The next home game is scheduled February 10 at 7 p.m. against Brantford.