With just three games left in the season, the Elmira Sugar Kings are just one point away from clinching first place in the GOJHL’s Midwestern Conference. The team’s record of 33-10-1-1 gives it 68 points, three ahead of second-place Cambridge with a game in hand.
After starting the weekend with a 6-2 win over Brantford, the Kings came up just shy of clinching when they fell 2-1 to Listowel in overtime.
“It would have been nice to lock up first place, but it wasn’t meant to be. In Branford we got off to a slow start, but we finished right. I didn’t think we quite matched Listowel’s intensity for the whole course of the game. We did in spurts, but we weren’t consistent enough and it cost us,” said head coach Rob Collins of the weekend.
Facing the last-place Bandits in Brantford Saturday night, the Kings got off to something of a slow start before taking charge later in the match. It was the home side that opened the scoring, going up 1-0 at 13:55 of the first period before Elmira’s Brock Reinhart, assisted by Kurtis Goodwin and Jayden Lammel, tied it up with 80 seconds left in the frame.
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The Bandits restored their one-goal lead five minutes into the second frame, but it was all Kings after that. Jack Tos’ power-play goal at 9:39 tied it up, with assists going to Goodwin and Jaxson Murray. At 18:49, the Kings took the lead for good on a goal by Mason Eurig, assisted by Logan Crans and Luke Della Croce.
Third period goals from Tos (shorthanded from Brody Leblanc, Chris Black), Black (Lammel, Reinhart) and Nathaniel Mott (Jackson Heron, Della Croce) led to the final score of 6-2. Shots were 33-19 in favour of the visitors. Elmira was 1-3 with the extra man, while Brantford was 0-6. Netminder Matt Lunghi stopped 17 shots for the win.
Play was more even the following night in Elmira, where the Kings played host to the Listowel Cyclones.
The teams exchanged chances, but there was no scoring in the first period. It wasn’t until late in the second, in fact, that there was any scoring, with Listowel drawing first blood.
Elmira tied it at 1-1 with a power-play goal just 97 seconds into the third. Leblanc netted the equalizer, assisted by Reinhart and Adam Grein. That’s how things would stand through regulation time, so it was off to OT, where at 2:13 Listowel quieted the home crowd by scoring a power-play marker to post a 2-1 win.
Elmira edged Listowel 29-28 in the shots department. The home team was 1-2 on the power play, while Listowel was 1-3. Goaltender Dan Botelho stopped 26 shots in a losing cause.
“We didn’t make any breaks for ourselves. I thought they were more intense, and I think that proved to be the difference in the game. Maybe we were a little bit fortunate to get a point, to be honest,” said Collins. “We try not to focus on the outputs – it’s the inputs, and the inputs weren’t right consistently enough this past weekend, so we’ve got to improve.”
The Kings welcomed the Caledon Bombers Wednesday night, though results weren’t known before press time. Thursday night, they’re in Ayr to face the Centennials. The team wraps up the season Sunday night at the WMC versus the K-W Siskins. Game time is 7 p.m.
Though in fifth place, Ayr has been a tough competitor all season, Collins noted.
“I think they match up really well against us. They play us hard, they always play us tight. It’s one of those games that generally comes right down to the wire – I think we’ve had two or three overtime games with them,” he said. “Ayr is someone that we definitely don’t overlook, and they have our respect.”
Even in they’ve already locked up first place going into the final game, the Kings are looking to set a tone against the Siskins, Collins added.
“It means a lot, regardless of the standings because that’ll be our last impression, we get to leave on them before a possible playoff [matchup]. So both teams will want confidence going into that series if it were to happen. I would expect that to have some real intensity to it, regardless of mattering in the standings,” he said of Sunday’s game.
“That’s a game we want, a game we’re going to take serious and hopefully show up guns blazing for.”