A convincing win in game four of their first-round series against the Centennials saw the Elmira Sugar Kings even things up at 2-2.
Who’ll have the edge in tonight’s game six match in Ayr will depend on the results of Wednesday night’s game, the details of which were unknown at press time.
“It feels good to get back on level terms that way,” said head coach Scott McMillan following the game-four win.
“We’ve got to learn from our mistake from game one, when we thought after we beat them they would just go away and let us have the series, then they came back with two wins,” he added of the coaching staff’s need to keep the young players focused.
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That the two teams have kept it close is no surprise given that each finished the GOJHL regular season with 59 points, Elmira taking fourth place in the Midwestern Conference – and home-ice advantage – on the strength of an additional regulation win.
The series got underway March 1 at the WMC, where the Kings posted a 4-1 win.
A pair of first-period goals proved enough for the victory. Taylor Bothwell scored at 9:35, assisted by Logan Crans and Brennan Kennedy. At 17:46, it was Chris Black who put the Kings up 2-0 with a power-play goal. Adam Grein and Crans drew assists.
Ayr would get one back with a power-play marker of their own less than a minute to go in the opening frame, but that would be it for them.
Grein scored the lone goal of the second period, with help from Jayden Lammel and Dustin Good. In the third, Lammel’s power-play goal at 1:09 capped Elmira’s scoring. Assists went to Brock Reinhart and Grein.
Shots were 29-28 in favour of the visitors, with netminder Daniel Botelho stopping 28 for the win. Elmira was 2-2 with the man advantage, while Ayr went 1-8.
It was a different story the following night (March 2) in Ayr, as the Centennials took the lead and never looked back.
The home side scored the lone goals of the first and second periods to go up 2-0. That lead was extended to 3-0 early in the third with a shorthanded goal before Elmira got on the board at 14:36 courtesy of Luke Della Croce (Good, Tanner McDonald).
A pair of empty-net goals sandwiched a goal from Elmira’s Madden MacDougall (Della Croce, Liam Eveleigh) before the game ended 5-2 in Ayr’s favour.
The home side outshot the visitors 31-28. Hayden Sabourin stopped 26 in the losing cause. Elmira went 0-3 on the power play, while Ayr was 1-3.
Game 3 on Saturday night in Elmira was a decidedly closer affair that featured just one goal. Unfortunately for the home crowd, that third-period marker was potted by the visitors.
Shots were evenly matched at 34-34. Botelho stopped 33 of the shots he faced. The Kings had plenty of chances on the power play, but went 0-7. The Centennials were 0-2.
Back in Ayr Monday night, things took another shift. While the Centennials edged the Kings in the number of shots – 40-39 – it was the number that found the back of the net that mattered: 6-0 in Elmira’s favour.
The Kings got first-period goals from MacDougall (Lammel, Austin Mumby) and Kennedy (Joey Martin) to take a 2-0 lead into the first intermission.
Lammel scored the only goal of the middle frame just 49 seconds in, assisted by MacDougall and Grein. It was 3-0 until a couple of minutes into the third, when Della Croce put the Kings up by four on a feed from Jackson Heron. Elmira rounded out the evening with a pair of power-play goals from Eveleigh (Reinhart, Lammel) and Crans (Brady Schwindt, Mumby).
The Kings finished the night 2-5 on the power play, while Ayr went 0-7. Botelho stopped 40 in the winning effort.
Despite the one-sided loss, Ayr didn’t lack for chances in game four, said McMillan.
“They sure had some chances. I think they probably had more chances than they had in game three,” he said, noting his players’ strong defensive play.
Game five was played Wednesday night in Elmira, with game six set for tonight (Thursday) in Ayr. If necessary, game seven will be played Sunday evening (4 p.m.) at the WMC.
Ahead of what could be the deciding games of the series, the coaching staff was stressing the need for consistent play.
“It just comes down to effort and intensity,” said McMillan “It’s just about the intensity and the focus of the players, and hopefully we can find a little consistency with that.”