The Elmira Sugar Kings started their new playoff series like they ended the last one: with strong goaltending and some luck. The combination saw them skate to a game-one victory in the Cherrey Cup finals Wednesday night, a 4-1 home win over the fifth-seeded Listowel Cyclones.
Kings goaltender Nick Horrigan was solid, making 38 saves in the win, but had some luck on his side as Cyclones skaters hit three goalposts through the course of the game as well.
“I thought it was a goaltending battle out there,” said Kings head coach Geoff Haddaway following the game. “I thought (Listowel goaltender Anthony) Peters had some outstanding saves, but Nick played exceptionally well. We’ve been lucky we’ve had some good goaltending in the playoffs, and that Nick could carry that on tonight.”
The win was Horrigan’s fourth straight after coming on in relief of Matt Smith halfway through game-three of the Brantford series, and his 38 saves helped raise his save percentage in these playoffs to .925.
The game started out very sluggishly for both teams as there was only one shot apiece as the game neared eight minutes of play. Elmira and Listowel both had trouble making the first pass out of their own zone, and both sides were guilty of some careless giveaways early.
“I think both teams struggled with their legs a little bit and there were some uncharacteristic giveaways by good players on both teams,” said Haddaway. “(But) everyone knows what’s at stake here, so I think that’s all that was.”
The Cyclones opened the scoring at 8:49 of the first period on the powerplay courtesy of Brett Catto. Horrigan made the initial save on a shot by Ryan Horvat, with the rebound coming right to Catto, who had a wide open net.
The Kings would respond in the latter half of the period with a powerplay goal of their own. Spencer MacCormack tipped a Jordan Benton point shot into the top shelf past Peters, with Wade Pfeffer picking up the other assist.
The powerplay came after some great work by Brad Kraus and Brady Campbell while killing off an Elmira penalty to draw a hooking call against Horvat and negate the Listowel powerplay.
In the second period Elmira dominated much of the play as they demonstrated one of the primary reasons why they are playing for the Cherrey Cup: their ability to roll all four lines and come in waves off the bench.
“We’re four lines, that’s the only way we can be successful,” said Haddaway. “We can’t over-play one line, we need everyone to contribute and so far in the playoffs that’s just the way we’ve been doing it.”
Lukas Baleshta gave the Kings the lead just 1:44 into the second with a good individual effort down low in the corner. He managed to wheel away from the defender and make his way to the low slot in front of Peters, where he unleashed his quick wrist shot and beat the Listowel keeper. MacCormack and Ryan Clarkson picked up the assists.
With 7:44 left on the clock, Baleshta undressed a Listowel defender and broke in alone on the keeper but was hauled down, granting him a penalty shot. Balestha faked to his backhand and tried to go high glove side on the forehand but was stopped by Peters.
In the third, the Kings put the game away on another great individual effort, this time from Brennon Pearce who beat his man to the outside and cut in front of the net, crashing into Peters and knocking him down. Brady Campbell followed close behind and managed to clean up the garbage by tapping in his seventh goal of the playoffs just 1:28 in.
From there on the period belonged to Horrigan, who finished with 16 saves in the third for the win. Two of Listowel’s three goal posts in the game came in the third as well with the score still close at 3-1.
Captain Josh Woolley capped things off with an empty-netter with less than two minutes to go.
“Obviously a great way to start the series,” said Haddaway. “When you have home ice you have to win that first game, and we did that tonight, (but) this was the first of a good series, for sure.”
The series is also the first time the two teams have matched up against each other in the Cherrey Cup finals. Listowel last made the finals back in 2005 when they beat the Owen Sound Greys in six games to advance to the Sutherland Cup. The Kings, meanwhile, last played in the finals in 2008, when they beat Cambridge in six.
Game two of the series went last night (Friday) in Listowel, and results were unavailable for press. The series continues tomorrow (Sunday) in a rare afternoon tilt at the Woolwich Memorial Centre. The puck drops at 2 p.m.