A four-game push that included three matches in as many nights saw the Elmira Sugar Kings split the difference to end the postseason.
A loss to Kitchener on August 28 was followed by a win over Waterloo the following night before Kitchener skated to another victory Friday night to end the week. Back on ice for Labour Day, the Kings skated to a win over Listowel.
In a preseason schedule filled with ups and downs, the Kings were able to evaluate the prospects and finalize a roster for the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League (GOJHL) season that begins Saturday.
The Kings opened the four-game stretch with a 2-1 loss to the Kitchener Dutchmen at the WMC. Kurtis Goodwin, assisted by Cam Daigle, opened the scoring at 4:40 of the first period, but that was it for Elmira’s night. The Dutchmen scored twice the middle frame and held on for the win despite being outshot 31-25.
Coach Rob Collins had nothing but praise for the effort displayed by the young hopefuls in a lineup that contained more than half a dozen 16-year-olds.
“I thought they competed really hard and gave a showing for themselves,” he said.
The following night, the Sugar Kings welcomed the Waterloo Siskins to the WMC for what would be a seesaw battle that required overtime to settle matters.
Jacob Black (Anthony Azzano) drew first blood at 6:52 of the opening period, with Waterloo 10 minutes later to make it 1-1 after one.
There was no scoring in the second, but the two teams traded goals in the third. Again, it was Elmira scoring early and the Siskins replying late. Tyson Hillier (Black) put the home side up 2-1 at 4:28, with Waterloo eventually forcing OT by potting one at 15:17. That set the stage for Black to pick up his third point of the night, burying the puck at 3:29 of the extra frame, assisted by Daigle.
After two close games, the wheels kinda fell off in Friday night’s rematch against the Dutchmen, which saw the visiting Kings fall 9-3.
Elmira did manage to keep the game close through the first two period, but things went sideways in the third. Kitchener scored first in the opening frame, but it was 1-1 for a while courtesy of a goal from Azzano (Allen, McIntosh) before the host squad score two more to make it 3-1.
The Kings made a game of it in the second, scoring the period’s only goals – Allen from LeBlanc and Murray, and Brody Waters (Mott, Tolten) – to tie things up at 3-3 through 40 minutes.
Any hope of a win was short-lived, however, as the Dutchmen scored early and often in the final frame. The six unanswered goals led to a 9-3 final score.
“Kitchener being a veteran team they poured it on and laid bit of a beating onto the boys but it was a learning experience and again the result wasn’t what we were looking for,” Collins said.
As the preseason unfolded players are constantly evaluated on their abilities to determine who the team will be keeping and who will be dropped in time to complete the final roster, explains Collins.
Heading into the final preseason game Monday night against the Cyclones in Listowel, the Sugar Kings iced their finalized roster, scoring once in each period, including power play markers in the first and third, to seal a 3-0 victory.
Kurtis Goodwin (Toms, Black) opening the scoring with just about 30 seconds to go in the first, capitalizing on the man-advantage. In the second, it was Tolten (Way, LeBlanc) who scored for the visitors, making it 2-0. Mason McMahon (Dubecki, Toms) secured the win for the Sugar Kings with a third goal with three minutes to go in the match, which ended at 3-0.
It was a good defensive outing, as the Kings held Listowel to 15 shots, while putting up 26 of their own.
“I was really happy with the result and how they played, we didn’t give up many chances,” Collins said of the team’s effort in their final preseason game.
Given the learning experience offered to some of the younger prospects and the effort show throughout the preseason, the preparations were a success, says Collins.
Now, with the regular season just about to start, the coach is looking for the effort and hard work to translate into on-ice success.
“Win after win after win,” laughed Collins of his expectations for the new season.
The mindset going forward is to work harder than the other team and give up fewer goals or score more goals in every game – essential for winning – he added.
The Sugar Kings open the season Saturday night at the GOJHL Showcase in Pelham, Ont., taking on the Hamilton Kilty B’s.