The Elmira Sugar Kings season came to an end this weekend via a 4-0 shutout in game seven of the first-round series against Kitchener.
Coming to the brink of elimination in the penultimate game of the series last week, the Kings squeaked by with a 3-2 OT win, forcing the two teams to settle the round in a winner-takes-all matinee at the Kitchener arena on Saturday.
It wasn’t close last weekend, however, and any hope of returning to the Sutherland Cup finals fell flat.
The loss put a definitive end to a season that included a fifth-place finish in the Midwestern Conference and saw the head coach let go in January.
“I can imagine how difficult of a season it was for the players in the context of the coaching change,” said the team’s new head coach Rob Collins, who stepped up to the position after Trent Brown’s removal. “I was definitely trying to implement a few different things than Trent was and I think we just ran out of time to have the things that we were trying to apply to our game turn into habit.
“Speaking from experience, in playing on teams that had coaching changes in the middle of the year, there’s definitely an adjustment period that’s needed in order to find your niche,” he added. “Obviously, we just didn’t attain the goals that we had for ourselves and came up a little short on the weekend.”
The final score notwithstanding, the Kings kept on the Dutchmen’s heels until late into the third at Saturday’s showdown. Down 2-0 in the final quarter of the frame and with nothing to lose, the Kings pulled their netminder for the extra firepower, but saw two empty-netters scored on them instead.
Game six proved to be a tighter affair. Played in Elmira March 6, the two teams traded pucks and points all night for a full 74 minutes of ice time. The Kings were in the hole coming into this match; down 3-2 to the Dutchmen in the best-of-seven series, the Elmira team was just a loss away from a game-six elimination.
So when Elmira’s Jeremy Goodwin (Mason McMahon, Kurtis Goodwin) found the back of the net first, halfway through the second frame, the excitement was palpable. J. Goodwin’s goal would prove to be the lone goal of the second frame, condensing the back-and-forth jockeying to the final leg of the match.
Kitchener opened the scoring just 45 seconds out in the game’s third stanza, making it a 1-1 game with a dwindling amount of time to spare. At this point, it felt like it was was anyone’s game.
- Goodwin (Harrison Toms, Hunter Dubecki) put the Kings back on top at the seven minute mark. Together, the Goodwin siblings, Jeremy and Kurtis, had a hand in every goal scored that night, with the pair picking up a goal and an assist each.
It looked as if the Kings were going to make it a 2-1 finish when Kitchener returned fire with seconds to spare. Drawing out an extra attacker for the play, the Dutchmen knotted the teams up with just one-and-a-half minutes on the clock, forcing the game into overtime.
It took another 14 minutes of play for the final point to be scored. Making use of a Kitchener penalty late in the period, Mason McMahon (Dubecki, J. Goodwin) slotted the game-winner on a power play, earning the Kings a reprieve.
Living to fight another day, the Sugar Kings found no such game-saving goals in Saturday’s game seven at the Kitchener arena.
As in the previous game, there was no scoring to be had in the first, and it was not until late into the middle frame that the Elmira team started losing ground. The Dutchmen found the back of the net 13 minutes into the second, making it 1-0 for the next 20 minutes of play.
The crucial point came 13:41 into the third, however, when Kitchener’s Drayton Duckett put in a short-handed marker for the team. Down 2-0 with six minutes to go, the Kings pulled out all the stops to get the win.
Pulling their goalie in a bid to even the count, the Elmira team saw another two goals knocked into an unguarded net instead, at 16:47 and again at 18:34, to end the game in a 4-0 defeat.
With the season over, the Elmira team will have a chance to reflect on the season past before turning their attentions to the future.
“Any season’s a good season when you’re playing on an organization like that,” said Zack Cameron, after Saturday’s loss. “It’s not the outcome we wanted, but I thought everyone brought it every game this series, and unfortunately we didn’t get the bounces this game.”
Despite the loss, coach Collins points out that the Elmira team were able to hold their own against one of the best teams in the league. Despite being only one spot higher in the standings, the Kitchener team had Elmira’s number for much of the regular season.
“I was really, really proud of the way the guys played. They played hard, and like I said, we just came up a little short,” said Collins. “And for Kitchener there too. They played a good game, and they must have been the best team since November in our league statistically.”
For Cameron, a veteran of three seasons with the Kings, there’s always hope for a comeback next year. But of course, not everyone will eligible to make a return to the Junior B league, as some on the current roster will age out.
“I feel for the three 20 year olds we’ve got,” added Cameron. “It feels like just yesterday that I strapped on the skates for the Kings, but now my last season’s next year, and I’m not taking anything for granted right now. Just trying to take it all in. It’s not easy. There’s a lot of guys on the team that can say ‘there’s always next year’, but you do have to feel for the guys that don’t get to say that.”