Having come back in their first-round series with Ayr to tie it up at two games apiece, the Elmira Sugar Kings finished it off with a pair of wins to advance to the second round.
A 4-1 victory on March 8 was followed the following night by a 2-0 win to seal the Centennials’ fate.
The first of those two wins really set the stage for the series win, says head coach Scott McMillan.
“Games one and five were probably the best that we played all year. Game four had a big score (6-0), but it was a pretty even game despite the score – they were getting quite a few chances and they just couldn’t finish. Our goalie played well, and we were able to get a couple by their goalie, so the score was not quite as indicative in game four. Games one and five were probably our best games of the season,” he said.
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The Kings will now face the KW Siskins in the next round.
In the March 8 game, the visiting Centennials opened the scoring with a power-play goal three minutes in, but that would be it for their offense. Ten minutes later, Madden MacDougall’s unassisted goal tied the game at 1-1, which is how things stood heading into the first intermission.
In the second, a goal at 9:40 from Jackson Herron, assisted by Luke Della Croce and Dustin Good, gave the Kings all the scoring they would need. At 14:09, Brady Schwindt’s goal made it 3-1. Assists went to Malcolm Scott and Liam Eveleigh.
In the third, captain Adam Grein’s power-play marker at 6:40, helped by Austin Mumby and Eveleigh, capped the scoring at 4-1 and giving the crowd at the WMC plenty to cheer about.
Shots were 28-22 in favour of the home team, with goaltender Daniel Botelho stopping 21 in the winning effort. The Kings were 1-6 on the power play, while Ayr was 1-2.
Ayr’s lack of discipline was likely a factor in the game’s outcome, with misconducts that carried over the following day.
“I think if they had to do over again, they’d probably wish they were a little bit more disciplined. I think some of their penalties were preventable, for sure,” said McMillan. “I think that ended up being a pretty big difference in the series – they missed some guys for some games, and took quite a few penalties at key times. We weren’t always able to capitalize, but I think eventually it kind of wore on them and became a hurdle they couldn’t overcome.”
The game the following night in Ayr proved to be a much tighter affair, as the Centennials came in facing elimination.
The Kings managed just 14 shots on net. Fortunately, two of them went in, including an empty-netter from Joey Martin (Eveleigh) with 29 seconds left in the game.
The lone goal up to that time had been scored by Elmira’s Brennan Kennedy, from Martin and Brock Reinhart, at 12:10 of the first period. It’s a lead that held up, even as the Centennials poured it on in the third, outshooting the Kings 14-2 over the final 20 minutes.
The game’s end tally was 23-14 for the host team, though they failed to get any past Botelho, who posted a shutout to end the series in six games.
Both teams were 0-3 with the man advantage.
“It was a pretty tight game. It wasn’t a lack of effort on our part, they played really, really hard and gave it everything they had. We were able to just be one goal better. It was a good effort by our guys to overcome the intensity that that they were playing with,” said the coach.
The second round of the GOJHL playoffs was to get underway at midweek, but delays in the Cambridge-Listowel series pushed that back to what is likely to be a weekend start. Cambridge won Tuesday night to advance against Stratford, with Kings drawing the Siskins.
The long downtime has McMillan somewhat concerned about the lack of momentum.
“Just sitting around too long, especially as we were playing well at the end of the Ayr series, ready to get going. But that wasn’t an option.”