Kings defeat Stratford to advance, now face Cambridge in conference finals
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Kings defeat Stratford to advance, now face Cambridge in conference finals

The Elmira Sugar Kings now face Cambridge in the Midwestern Conference finals after defeating the Stratford Warriors in six games.

The Kings closed out the second-round series April 29 with a 5-2 win in Stratford. That followed a 3-1 victory two nights earlier at home.

“It was a very tight-checking series. There wasn’t a whole lot of offense either way, so it was one of those series where you had to be patient and not get off track too much,” said head coach Rob Collins. “Those are the kinds of lows that can hurt you – it seemed like every game was a race to be the first team that got to two goals.”

With the series tied going into game five, Stratford poured it on early, but managed just one goal through 40 minutes before Elmira responded.

Neither team scored in the opening period. It was Stratford that drew first blood, breaking the 0-0 deadlock with less than three minutes in the frame that saw the visitors outshoot the Kings 13-7.

The Kings finally replied at 8:55 of the third with a goal from Mason Eurig, his first of the playoffs, assisted by Brody Leblanc and Luke Eurig. It would remain a 1-1 game for another 10 minutes before Leblanc put Elmira ahead, with help from Kurtis Goodwin and Chris Black. Luke Eurig’s empty-net goal at 19:48, assisted by Adam Grein, ensured the win.

Final shots were 31-25 in favour of Stratford, with Elmira netminder Dan Botelho stopping 30 to pick up the win.

Last Friday night’s game-six clash in Stratford was another close one, with the Kings coming on strong in the third to take the game and the series.

Again, it was Stratford that struck first, going up 1-0 just over five minutes in. Elmira’s Nathaniel Mott tied it up on the power play at 17:43, assisted by Grein and Leblanc. Special teams would be a factor the rest of the way through.

After a scoreless second period, it was all about Elmira in the third. Mott scored another power-play goal at 6:15 to put the Kings ahead for good. Assists went to Leblanc and Grein. Just over two minutes later, Jayden Lammel made it 3-1 with a power-play marker of his own, this one unassisted.

Stratford got one back with less than three minutes to play, but empty-netters from Grein and Jackson Heron (Mason Eurig, Mott) in the final minute put the game well out of reach at 5-2.

“It it was 3-1 for a long time, they scored late to make it 3-2, but it never felt like it was out of our control, which certainly helps with the gray hair count,” Collins laughed.

At the final buzzer, shots were 30-23 in favour of the visiting Kings, with 21 saves securing another win for Botelho.

Collins said he wasn’t expecting the Warriors would be suffering a letdown after game five, looking to stave off elimination on Friday.

“I felt like they pushed the way we anticipated they’d push it, fighting for their lives. We didn’t feel it quite as much because we were ready for it. To our guys’ credit, they went in with a really focused attitude and took care of business, so to speak. So I don’t think it was as much of a letdown as it was a really focused effort on our part,” he said of the Kings pressing on to take the series.

The Kings are now facing the Cambridge Redhawks in the third round. Collins expects a tough battle, saying the players know they need to keep doing what’s made them successful all season.

“I’m expecting everyone’s best game. An energy-fueled series is what I expect,” he said, noting that if the Kings give them any breaks, the Redhawks will capitalize on them. “That’s a good team in Cambridge. It’ll be a real challenge – they’re a formidable opponent.”

The series started Wednesday night in Elmira – results weren’t known before press time – with the action shifting to Cambridge Saturday before returning to the WMC Sunday night.

Just after the Kings wrapped up their second-round win, the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League this week announced the Midwestern Conference award winners for the 2021-22 season.

Goaltenders Daniel Botelho and Matthew Lunghi took home the Twin Cities Trophies Award for best team goaltending. The duo was impressive as they split the action fairly evenly. Botelho had 26 appearances this season with a 19-6-1-0 record recording a 2.13 GAA and .917 SV%, including three shutouts. Lunghi posted a 14-4-0-0 record with a 1.98 GAA & .920 SV%, recording four shutouts of his own.

Kurtis Goodwin took home the Joe Veroni Memorial Award for defensive forward of the year. He’s been consistent: in the last three seasons, he has had 26, 26 and 28 points. He contributes in all facets of the game with three powerplay goals, a shorthanded goal, and two game-winners on his stat line this season.

The R.J. Noble Memorial Award as rookie of the year went to Jaxson Murray. The 2003-born forward was only a point off the team lead in 2021-22 with 22 goals and 28 assists for 50 points. The Waterloo native made an impact in his first full season in the GOJHL and was named to the top prospects roster this season. Six of the Sugar Kings games this season were finished by a Murray game-winner.

Collins received the Kearnsy Memorial Award as coach of the year. The Midwestern Conference’s top team this season had 35 wins and 72 total points. Collins and his staff kept their squad motivated all season long and finished fourth league-wide in goal differential with a plus-67.

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