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Kings one win away from clinching top spot in conference

The shorthanded Kings fell 5-4 in overtime Sunday to the visiting Stratford Warriors. [Colin Merlihan]

The fruits of their penalty-filled labours the previous week proved bitter for the Elmira Sugar Kings, who dropped both games over the weekend.

The Kings fell 4-2 in Cambridge on February 8, then dropped a 5-4 OT decision to Stratford the following night on home ice.

While suspensions forced head coach Rob Collins to shorten his bench, he wasn’t keen to lean on that issue.

“It’s not an excuse – you just have to play your game,” he said.

Playing their game wasn’t really an option, however, as the Kings were unable to roll four lines – the team had just seven forwards dressed for last Saturday’s match, and nine on Sunday.

“We play a difficult style,” said Collins of the energy needed through 60 minutes, reserves that just couldn’t be tapped over the weekend.

“In both games, the first two periods were good, but we ran out of fuel.”

Saturday in Galt, the Kings went up 2-0 in the second after a scoreless first period. A power-play goal by Hunter Dubecki (assisted by Jeremey Goodwin and Harrison Toms) just 37 seconds after play resumed was followed by another Dubecki tally at 2:46, with Mason McMahon drawing an assist. But that was it, as the Redhawks took over from there.

The home side made it a one-goal game before the period ended, then scored three unanswered goals, including an empty-netter, in the final frame.

Having outshot the Redhawks in the first two periods – 13-8 and 15-5 – the Kings wilted in the third, with Cambridge having a 14-3 advantage.

Elmira took an early lead again on Sunday at the WMC before letting the Stratford Warriors climb back into the game.

Back from suspension, Brody Waters opened the scoring with a power-play marker at 3:05, assisted by Dubecki and Toms. Waters bulged the twine again at 8:05, this time assisted by Niki Molson and McMahon, to give the home team a 2-0 lead.

After Stratford made it 2-1, McMahon (Goodwin) restored the two-goal lead with just 16 seconds remaining in the opening period.

The two teams exchanged goals in the middle stanza, Stratford at 15:56 and then Dubecki (Toms, Goodwin) on the power play at 19:06. It was 4-2 Kings after 40 minutes.

The third was the undoing of the team again, however. The Warriors scored twice to force overtime, then scored on its lone shot in the extra frame.

“I thought the guys gave a heck of an effort. We just ran out of gas,” said Collins.

With four games remaining in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League’s regular season, the Kings need just one more win to clinch their longstanding grip on top spot in the Midwestern Conference. They’ll get plenty of chances to do just that this weekend, playing three games in as many days.

The Kings (33-8-05) are in Brantford Saturday night to take on the Bandits (6-35-0-5) before returning home for a pair of 2 p.m. matinees: Sunday against Listowel (22-16-2-4) and a holiday Monday rematch against Brantford.

“The guys have put themselves in a good position,” said Collins of the push for the playoffs. “They’ve left it (the season) in their own control. It’s nice not to have to be dependent on what others do.”

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