Having clinched top spot in the conference, the Elmira Sugar Kings may have taken their foot off of the gas pedal, at least slightly, in dropping a 4-3 decision to Cambridge Saturday in the final game of the regular season.
“I didn’t think our focus was entirely there. I thought they were thinking more towards the playoffs starting versus finishing the season. I’ve seen it happen before – it is not uncommon,” said head coach Rob Collins.
“It is a little bit disappointing, but it is what it is. The guys earned a regular season championship – that’s feather in their cap. You don’t do that unless you’ve earned it. I can’t be too disappointed, but it would’ve been nice to finish the season with a win.”
The Kings finished the season with 77 points (26-9-0-5), four points ahead of the second-place Kitchener Dutchmen. And a whopping 60 points more than what could be mustered by the eighth-place Brantford Bandits (6-39-0-5), the team they’re now facing in the first round of the playoffs.
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There was a good crowd on hand (656) Saturday night to watch the end of the GOJHL regular season in Galt at the oldest hockey arena in Ontario – and one of the oldest continuously operated rinks on the planet – as the third-place Redhawks took on the Kings.
Along with some red-carpet ceremonies and player accolades, the evening was also a celebration of community and was title fan appreciation night.
Going into the Saturday night match, the Kings were the top team in the Midwestern Conference, but a victory wasn’t assured given Cambridge’s strong season. That was apparent from the start of what would be a game heavily influenced by special teams.
The home side got on the board first, scoring on a power play at 13:33 of the first, the lone goal of the opening frame.
Following the intermission, the Kings got a power play goal of their own at 1:47 courtesy of Brody Leblanc’s 12th of the season, assisted by Luke Eurig and Jeremey Goodwin. Less than two minutes later, however, the Redhawks capitalized on another man-advantage to regain the lead. And half a minute later, the home team was up 3-1 on the evening’s only even-strength goal.
Back on the power play at 9:23, the Kings made it a 3-2 game when Goodwin scored, assisted by Mason McMahon and Hunter Dubecki. That’s where the score would stand after 40 minutes following a chippy, back-and-forth middle frame, which Collins would describe as “lack of focus on probably both sides.”
The third period opened with some end-to-end play, with the Kings given a chance to even things up when the Redhawks were called for holding at 6:22. But it was Cambridge who’d tally one, a shorthanded marker at 7:44 that made it 4-2.
With the goalie on the bench for an extra attacker, Dubecki (Goodwin, Harrison Toms) got the Kings back within one, but time would run out.
Despite coming up short, the Kings outshoot the Redhawks 35-30.
But the Sugar Kings don’t have time to think about the regular season at this point, as they’re now embroiled in a seven-game series against Brantford. Their prospects would seem to be good, as the Bandits have been woeful this year.
Collins acknowledged that “we had good success against them in the regular season – our game plan will be similar to what it was. Outwork, be predictable and communicate. We like our chances.”
The series got underway Wednesday night (results weren’t available before press time), heads to Brantford Saturday, and returns to Elmira Sunday at 7 p.m. Game four is scheduled for Brantford on March 2. If necessary, game five will be at the WMC on March 4.