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Kings take two of three; one point back from top spot

The Elmira Sugar Kings took two out of three games over the weekend to keep pace with the KW Siskins in the GOJHL Western Conference race. The team remains in second spot, one point back with a record of 26-8. They have a game in hand.

The latest stretch of games got underway February 17 in Ayr, where the Kings beat the Centennials 4-1, travelling to Listowel the following night where they fell 2-0 to the Cyclones. On Family Day, the team played its first home game since before Christmas, playing inhospitable hosts to the Brantford Bombers in a 9-0 victory.

Behind the bench in Ayr, head coach Rob Collins was forced to watch from home over the weekend as a positive COVID test in the family forced him into five days of isolation.

“I had to watch the games at home. Friday was tough to watch against Listowel, and then Monday against Brantford, I thought we got back to playing the right way, so that was encouraging,” he said.

Well back in fifth place, the Centennials (14-15-3-4) have played the Kings tough this season. That was the case February 17 in Ayr, at least early on, as the two teams emerged from the first tied 1-1 despite the Kings outshooting the home side 16-7.

Daniel Fraleigh opened the scoring, putting Elmira up 1-0 with an unassisted shorthanded goal at 17:02. The Centennials tied it up just over a minute later, however, on a power play.

Play was a little tighter in the middle frame, with Elmira’s Luke Della Croce potting the lone goal at 16:24, assisted by Jack O’Donnell and Jayden Lammel.

Luke Eurig scored twice in the third period to salt away the win for the visitors. His first came at 9:52, assisted by Jaxson Murray and Brock Reinhart, while the second was a power-play marker with the net empty at 19:07 on route to the 4-1 win. Assists went to Kurtis Goodwin and Nathaniel Mott.

Final shots were 41-20 in favour of Elmira, with netminder Daniel Botelho stopping 19 to pick up the win. The Kings were 1-4 with the man advantage; Ayr was 1-7.

“We knew it would be tough – they’ve played us tight all year, every game has been close. So we weren’t surprised by anything there,” said Collins of the match in Ayr.

“Through the first two periods, I think you could see that… we didn’t have our best stuff. We talked about it in between the second and third and I thought the team’s focus was much better – they grasped control of that game in the third period and didn’t let go, so that was nice to see.”

It was a different story the next night in Listowel. The Kings were blanked on 18 shots, while the Cyclones scored twice in the opening stanza to give them all the goals they’d need.

Elmira goaltender Matt Lunghi stopped 25 of 27 shots in a losing cause. The Kings were 0-4 on the power play, with Listowel 0-5.

Watching that game from home was tough, says Collins, noting he “got vocal” at times in front of the screen.

“While the effort again was good, it was the focus,” he said of what led to the loss.

Having had the weekend to rest, the Kings were back at the WMC Monday afternoon for a Family Day match against the last-place Bandits. Held scoreless the previous game, the players were eager to open the floodgates in front of the home crowd – they did just that.

The Kings scored early and often. Murray’s 20th of the year got the team rolling at 1:04 of the first. A little over five minutes later, Mason Eurig (Jack Tos, Jack O’Donnell) put Elmira up 2-0. Adam Grein (Fraleigh, Liam Eveleigh) rounded out the period’s scoring with a power-play goal at 17:25.

Owen O’Donnell’s power-play goal at 8:53 was the lone scoring play of the middle frame. Assists went to Adam Grein and Eveleigh.

The Kings left no doubt how things would end when play resumed following the second intermission.

Aidan Yarde (Fraleigh) made it 5-0 at 5:15. Before the final buzzer sounded, Elmira would get goals from Grein (Goodwin, Lammel), Grein again (Lammel, Goodwin), Mott (Murray, Goodwin) and Murray (Luke Eurig, Owen Duiker).

Shots were 38-11 in favour of the home team, with the shutout going to Daniel Botelho. The Kings were 2-5 on the power play, while Brantford was 0-1.

The Kings wrap up the month with a trip to Stratford Friday night to face the Warriors (22-11-0-1) before a Sunday night rematch against Brantford (5-29-2) at the WMC. Game time is 7 p.m.

Collins said the Kings are preparing one game at a time, starting with the Warriors who’ve been struggling of late. Still, they’re not taking anything for granted.

“Absolutely not, especially in that little arena where they come out with all kinds of adrenaline. We’ll worry about Brantford on Saturday. Right now, the focus is Friday.”

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