A pair of wins over the weekend showed why the Elmira Sugar Kings are atop the standings of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Midwestern Conference.
The team was victorious 6-3 on the road in Listowel January 24 and again in Waterloo Sunday, where the score was 5-0.
With a record of 31-7-0-4, the Kings are 11 points ahead of the second-place Kitchener Dutchmen (25-11-2-3) and 12 ahead of the Cambridge Redhawks (25-12-1-3).
“The future looks good as far as the regular season goes,” said head coach Rob Collins. “Everything is in our control, which is all you can ask for. The plan is to keep on improving, because we know that’s what it’s going to take in order to achieve the ultimate goal which is to win in the playoffs.”
The winning weekend started last Friday in Listowel, with Jeremey Goodwin (Brody Waters, Mason McMahon) drawing first blood at 6:04, gaining an early lead that the Kings would never relinquish. The next goal came from Waters at 12:58, with an assist going to McMahon, to make it 2-0.
“The first two periods in the Listowel game I thought were two of the better periods I thought we had all year,” said Collins. “I thought we were really, really good. We were in full control of the game.”
There was no more scoring until the second frame, when Jacob Black joined in on the scoring almost instantly 40 seconds in. Kurtis Goodwin and Hunter Dubecki picked up the assists. Cooper Way (McMahon, Brody Leblanc) potted one more with just seconds left in the stanza, at 19:48. It was 4-0 for the visitors heading into the second intermission.
The tone of the game got progressively rougher when action resumed, with an Elmira penalty at the end of the second for slashing, leaving the Kings at a disadvantage. The floundering Listowel Cyclones finally got on the board, capitalizing on the power play at 1:04.
Any thought of a comeback was shortlived, with Dubecki (Luke Eurig) returning the favour at 6:04 to make it 5-1. The Cyclones responded within a minute to make it 5-2
Another set of penalties – this time on the Listowel side for boarding and roughing –gave the Kings an opportunity to put the game away, and they did not disappoint. Black scored on the power play at 10:31, with assists going to Waters and Harrison Toms.
Up 6-2, the Kings would surrender one more to Listowel with seven minutes to go, but it was already too little, too late at that point. It was 6-3 for Elmira when the buzzer went, with shots 31-18 in favour of the Kings.
Sunday found the Kings in Waterloo to face the Siskins, to whom they’d lost in the previous four encounters. This time would be satisfyingly different, however.
“Revenge tastes sweet,” said Collins. “We had something to prove to ourselves; we had confidence in ourselves that we could beat this team and we needed to let our actions do the talking.”
Things could have gone differently, as Elmira was playing with a shortened lineup with Harrison Toms and Kurtis Goodwin out of this match, but they played their hand well. Elmira opened the scoring when Leblanc potted one at 5:46. McMahon (J. Goodwin) followed up at 6:52. The first period would end with the visitors up 2-0.
There was no scoring in the middle frame, but tensions did rise a little bit as witnessed by the handful of penalties doled out. The Kings got rolling again in the third, however. J. Goodwin scored at 11:20, with Waters and Carter Lennon picking up assists. McMahon (J. Goodwin, Waters) kept the momentum going at 14:26 to make it 4-0. Dubecki scored the team’s fifth and final goal at 17:48, with assists going to Black and Liam Burke.
With the Siskins unable to find the back of the net, the game ended as a 5-0 victory for Elmira. Shots were 38-22 in favour of the Kings, with netminder Greg Brassard posting the shutout, his sixth of the season.
Now that the regular season is starting to wind down, Elmira has a demonstrated track record of excellence, consistently remaining atop the conference standings.
This contrasts their 2018-2019 season, which saw the Sugar Kings finish fifth place in the regular season and eliminated in the first round of playoff. So what changed for the Junior B team?
“The reason for the biggest turnaround for the success of the team … I believe this wholeheartedly, is practice habits. We work much harder in practice than we did last year. Habits are formed in practice, and shown off in games,” said Collins.
The Kings roll into February with a pair of games this weekend. In Brantford Saturday night to take on the Bandits, they return home for Sunday matinee against the Brampton Bombers. Game time is 2 p.m.