Another three games in four nights? No problem, as the Elmira Sugar Kings racked up three more victories from a busy weekend, bringing the streak to six.
The team followed a 3-2 OT win in Ayr October 28 with wins in Caledon (3-2) and at home against Listowel, that one a 5-2 difference. That stretch followed three wins the previous weekend, putting the Kings in top spot of the GOJHL’s Midwestern Conference with a record of 11-2, the 22 points two ahead of second-place Stratford (10-1), which has two games in hand.
“It was another tough schedule – three games in four nights – and six games in 10 days, but, yeah, that was six wins. We’re pretty fortunate,” said head coach Rob Collins of Elmira’s latest successes.
Things got rolling October 28 in Ayr, where the Kings were in tough and needed overtime to seal the win over the fifth-place Centennials (5-3-2-3).
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After no scoring through 40 minutes, both teams broke the ice in the third. Elmira’s Brody Leblanc was first on the board, just 1:33 into the third, with Nathaniel Mott and Jayden Lammel drawing assists. The lead lasted less than three minutes, however, as the Centennials tied it then went ahead at 6:43. There were just 19 seconds left in the frame when Leblanc’s ninth of the year sent the game into overtime deadlocked at 2-2, with assists going to Luke Eurig and Brayden Hislop.
Eurig (from Hislop and Lammel) ended the game in Elmira’s favour 6:39 into the extra stanza.
Elmira netminder Dan Botelho made 32 saves on route to the win. Final shots were 40-34 in favour of the Kings.
“Ayr plays a style that… they keep you honest. It’s not going to be easy. They’re going to make you work for it, and if you’re not prepared for that they’re going to sneak up on you,” said Collins. “By no means do we take them lightly.”
The following night, the Kings were in Caladon to face the Bombers, who lost both matches when facing Elmira earlier in the season.
The Kings opened the scoring at 14:46 of the first period courtesy of Aidan Yarde (Jaxson Murray) and never relinquished lead.
Luke Della Croce made it 2-0 early in the middle frame, with assists going to Yarde and Liam Eveleigh. Caledon got one back, but Leblanc’s unassisted shorthanded goal at 9:26 saw the Kings take a 3-1 lead into the second intermission.
The Bombers got the lone goal of the third period, but the buzzer would sound with the visitors up 3-2. Shots were 50-37 for Elmira. Goaltender Matthew Lunghi picked up the win.
Although playing with four call-ups due to some holes in the lineup, the Kings kept rolling in Friday’s game and through the weekend, said Collins.
“Our core guys that were in the lineup really led by example, again, which we want them to continue to do – there’s an expectation of them being a leader for us,” he said. “They’re finding ways to win when we’re not at full strength as a unit, and they’re doing it in a consistent way that we believe is making our foundation more solid for a run later in the year.”
Back on home ice Sunday, the Kings faced a tougher game than the 5-2 score would indicate, with the visiting Cyclones at times taking charge such that Botelho’s goaltending was what turned the tide – he stopped 38 of 40 shots overall.
Elmira was on the board first, with Daniel Fraleigh (Mott, Adam Grein) potting the only goal of the opening period.
In the second, Kurtis Goodwin made it 2-0 on the power play at 8:45, assisted by Yarde and Murray. Less than two minutes later, it was a 2-1 game, but goals from Grein (Yarde, Eurig) and Leblanc (Murray, Chris Black) put the home side up 4-1, with Listowel getting one back with less than two minutes to go in the period.
Fraleigh’s second of the night in final period was the bookend to the scoring, sealing a 5-2 win.
Shots were 40-33 for the visitors.
“Dan Botelho played terrific. Both goaltenders played terrific for us, but since Dan came on, he’s been terrific for us. For a stretch of the game against Listowel, it was the first time to my recollection… that I think a goalie was in a position where he had to kind of steal the game for a good chunk of the game to keep us in it. And he calmly did that very well,” said Collins.
The Kings have a somewhat more relaxed schedule this month, with just two games this weekend. On Friday, they’re back in Caledon for a rematch before returning home Sunday to face the fourth-place Cambridge Redhawks (7-4-1). Game time is 7 p.m.
“We beat them last time we played them, so I imagine they’ll be hungry to come after us,” said Collins of the Cambridge game, noting the team will have a target on its back now that the Kings sit atop the league standings.
“Like I was explaining to the guys, you need to understand that you’re going to get everyone’s best game now that you’re the alpha. So enjoy it. It’s a privilege. Don’t just take it as a challenge, it’s a privilege, but it’s a privilege that you’ve earned because you put yourself in that position.
“We’ll see how the guys react.”