Having jumped up a couple of places in the Midwestern Conference standings to fourth, the Elmira Sugar Kings found themselves back where they started after a pair of losses last weekend.
On November 18 in Stratford, the team fell 3-1 to the Warriors. Two days later, the offense was quieter still in a 1-0 loss at home to the Ayr Centennials. Fans at the WMC had to wait until game’s end to take part in the hat-and-mitten toss, which usually sees bundles rain down on the ice after the Kings’ first goal – the shutout interrupted that plan.
The lack of scoring was largely due to playing with a short bench, said head coach Scott McMillan, noting the team had just 18 players – 10 forwards – through most of the weekend.
“We had 19 to start on Friday, but we lost a guy about the third shift of the game, so we basically had 10 forwards both nights. It’s just really, really hard to score when you only have that many bodies – guys just get tired. You can kind of effort your way to playing good defense, which we did, so credit to our guys, but it’s really tough to just effort your way to offense,” he said.
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Last Friday’s game started well enough, with the Kings on the board first less than four minutes into the game. Logan Crans’ ninth of the year came on the power play with the help of Jayden Lammel and Brock Reinhart, but that would be it for the scoring from the Elmira side.
The Warriors tied the game before the opening period was done, adding goals in each of the second and third frames to take the 3-1 win.
Shots were 21-18 in favour of the host team, which went 1-3 with the man advantage while the Kings were 1-5. Elmira goaltender Daniel Botelho stopped 18 in the losing cause.
With six power plays, the Kings had their chances on Sunday night at the WMC, but the sticks had gone cold. Both the first and second periods were scoreless, and the 0-0 tie remained in place until just past the three-minute mark of the third, when Ayr scored the game’s lone goal, an even-strength tally though the Centennials too had their power-play chances, going 0-5.
Netminder Hayden Sabourin stopped 21 of the 22 shots he faced, but that wasn’t enough given that his counterpart at the other end of the ice, Brayden Gillespie, stopped all 17 to pick up the shutout.
The weekend was something of a learning experience for the young team, said McMillan, noting the large number of rookies.
“We’re proud of their effort, proud of the way they battled shorthanded, so a pat on the back for that. They gained, I think, a little bit of understanding about starting the game with a little bit more urgency. Understanding that late in the game, it might be a little bit tougher, so coming out with a little bit more intensity and urgency early and hope to get out to a good start. We had a couple games this year where we were able to win with a short bench, but those were nights where they’ve had a couple goals in the first and the start of the second, and then we’re playing defense in the third, which allowed us to kind of hang in there.”
McMillan said he expects to have a full lineup this weekend.
The Kings ( 12-11) will have a shot at payback tonight (Thursday) as they’re in Ayr for a rematch with the Centennials 12-10-0-1). On Sunday, they welcome the last-place Brantford Bandits (2-22-1) to the WMC. Game time is 7 p.m.