The weekend was a good one for the Elmira Sugar Kings, who swept through three games in as many nights.
The Kings followed a 5-0 win over Listowel on October 22 with a 3-0 shutout of the KW Siskins Saturday and a 5-2 victory over the visiting Cambridge Redhawks.
The wins saw the Kings move into second place in the GOJHL’s Midwestern Conference with a record of 8-2, the 16 points just two behind first-place Stratford (9-1).
There was plenty for head coach Rob Collins to like about what he saw, both on the scoreboard and in the effort of his players, especially as attrition saw the team able to ice just nine forwards in by Sunday’s game.
“It was a good one. It was one of those ones where we were kind of struggling to find our groove going in,” he said of the weekend. “Three wins … moving forward, that’s a positive sign.”
The Junior B team opened the weekend in Listowel against the cyclones. After a scoreless opening period in Listowel, the Kings opened the floodgates in the middle frame, taking a 4-0 lead.
Owen Duiker got things rolling with his first of the year at 4:01 of the second, assisted by Brody Leblanc and Jayden Lammel. Exactly four minutes later it was 2-0 when Liam Eveleigh scored on the power play, assisted by Adam Grein and Nathaniel Mott.
Goals from Aidan Yarde (Grein, Mason Eurig) and Leblanc (from Yarde and Brayden Hislop on the power play) rounded out the scoring in the period.
Duiker’s second at 16:48 of the third sealed the 5-0 victory, with netminder Daniel Botelho picking up the shutout on the strength of 22 saves. The Kings were 2-5 with the man advantage, while the Cyclones were 0-6. Elmira outshot Listowel 32-22.
“Friday was a really, really good effort, especially in their arena. I thought we control the play from the start of the game right through. Even though it was 0-0 in the first period, the score did not paint a picture of how that first period was. I was proud that the guys didn’t get off track with the game plan when what we did resulted in 0-0 first period,” said Collins. “They stayed the course and it really paid dividends in the second – I think, to be honest, the game is over after the second and then they just kind of cruised home. But they kept their focus for the third period to get Dan’s first shutout. So they did a great job.”
The following night, the Kings were home to welcome the KW Siskins to the WMC. This time, it would be goaltender Matthew Lunghi’s turn to record a shutout.
It was a slightly tighter match than the night before, though Elmira took the lead midway through the first period and never gave it up. Leblanc (Mott, Eveleigh) made it 1-0 at 11:15, and that’s how things would stand until 4:09 of the third when Leblanc’s second of the night made it 2-0, with Eveleigh picking up an assist.
Luke Eurig (Jaxson Murray) put a cap on the night with just 46 seconds left in the match.
Shots were 29-24 in favour of the home side. Elmira went 0-2 on the power play, while the Siskins came up dry on three attempts.
“It was a little bit tighter, I get that, but again I thought we carried the momentum from start to finish,” said Collins.
The Kings finally gave up a goal in Sunday’s home game against Cambridge, but it was never really close, as the visitors were up 3-0 less than 15 minutes into the game.
Murray’s unassisted goal just 52 seconds after the opening faceoff set the tone. At 6:21, Murray was at it again, scoring on the power play, assisted by Hislop and Leblanc. Murray would pick up his third point of the night eight minutes later when Hislop scored to make it 3-0, with Leblanc drawing the other assist.
Cambridge scored 30 seconds later to send the teams into the first intermission with Elmira up 3-1.
In the middle stanza, the only scoring came with two seconds left on the clock, with Murray wrapping up the hat trick, assisted by Hislop and Leblanc.
The Redhawks made it 4-2 with less than five minutes remaining the match, but Grein (Luke Eurig) scored into an empty net to make it a 5-2 final.
Botelho picked up the win, stopping 17 of 19 Redhawks shots, while his side put 30 on the Cambridge net. Elmira was 1-5 with the extra man, while the visitors were 1-4.
It was another game where the Kings dominated. Not perfect, but certainly part of an improving trend in this young season, said Collins.
“It’s a game of mistakes – whoever makes the least amount of mistakes usually wins. There’s going to be mistakes, but so as long as we recognize them and understand why they happened and what the fix is …,” he said. “We understand that they’re going to happen, but if we can lessen them, and that’s the goal.”
The Kings have seen some strong play this year, with four skaters among the top 20 scorers in the league. Murray is sixth with 17 points (9-8-17), with Leblanc three spots back on the strength of 7-8-15 totals. Luke Eurig sits in 11th with 14 points (5-9-14), while Hislop has put up 1-12-13 from the blue line.
The Sugar Kings have another busy weekend ahead of them, with three games in four nights starting Thursday on the road in Ayr. Saturday night they’re in Caledon before returning home for a Sunday matinee against Listowel.
Though facing teams lower in the standings, there are no gimmes in the conference, said Collins.
“That’s the fun thing about this league. I would say the top six are fairly strong consistently – anyone can beat anyone. We’re classic proof of that: we have two losses this year, we lost to the first-place team and we’ve lost to the last-place team.”