The coaches for the Elmira Sugar Kings knew that heading into the season their strength was going to be solid defence and good goaltending, but they also knew the team might struggle at times to put the puck in the net.
All three of those points were on display last week as the Kings dropped a 2-0 decision to the Brantford Golden Eagles Oct. 28, and pulled out a 4-2 win over the Listowel Cyclones on Sunday night at home.
Their loss to the Golden Eagles was the first time they had been shut out all season. The Kings had entered the game on a hot streak, winning their previous four games and tallying 25 goals in those wins – including a 7-3 win over Brantford on Oct. 17.
“I like to bring the positive’s out of every game,” said head coach Geoff Haddaway, “and I think that was a game where there wasn’t a lot of positive other than we went on the road and only gave up one goal.” Brantford scored their second of the night with one second left on the clock and after the Kings had pulled their goalie.
“We just didn’t generate any offence and it didn’t feel like a good game. We didn’t generate anything, nothing at all.”
The proof is in the statistics. The Kings were held to 22 shots, their second-lowest total of the season, which was surprising given that they had 51 shots on goal the last time the two teams met. Matthew Smith took the hard-luck loss after stopping 35 of 36 shots.
“It’s pretty tough to get shutout in our league, because if you’re aggressive on the forecheck you’ll create chances.
But give them credit, they shut us down and their goaltending was strong.”
That poor play appeared to carry on into their game on Sunday against the Listowel Cyclones – they were held to just four shots in the first period, they failed to generate any good scoring chances, and they trailed 1-0 heading into the dressing room after 20 minutes.
“It was a very similar type of effort,” noted Haddaway. “I thought it was a little bit better, but I just thought we weren’t sharp. We were losing the battles to the pucks.”
Haddaway made some minor changes to his lines and made a few suggestions to the players, and the changes seemed to click. The team started the second with more jump and tenacity, and they started finishing their checks and getting the puck in deep.
Finally at 9:47 of the second period, the Kings ended their scoring drought with a goal from an unlikely source.
Rookie Cass Frey, along with linemates Devon Wagner and Tyler Snyder, changed the entire momentum of the game with somewhat of a lucky bounce. Wagner’s initial shot went high over the net but bounced off the glass back into the slot, where Frey was waiting to deposit his first goal of the year.
His teammates quickly rallied around him to celebrate the goal.
“Cass Frey has been just an outstanding worker for us all year long,” explained Haddaway. “Nobody hears about him, nobody talks about him, but when his line goes out they’re out creating energy, and so when he scores it brings up the whole bench.”
The goal changed the entire complexion of the game. Shortly after Frey’s goal, Lukas Baleshta scored his fifth of the year on the powerplay from Spencer MacCormack and Wade Pfeffer at 14:35. Brad Kraus scored his second shorthanded goal of the season at 18:10 when he picked up a lose puck at his own blue line and made a quick snap shot through the legs of the Listowel keeper.
Elmira had 22 shots on goal in the second, compared to only four for Listowel.
Baleshta scored his second of the night on the powerplay at 11:42 of the third from Colton Wolfe-Sabo. Listowel’s
Caleb Cameron closed out the scoring at 14:21 on the powerplay.
Nick Horrigan made 22 saves for the win to continue the strong stretch of goaltending that the Kings have received this season. Smith and Horrigan are currently ranked third and fourth in the league with nearly identical goals-against-average (2.40 and 2.42 respectively), while Smith is tied for second with a .925 save percentage and Horrigan is eighth with a .918 save percentage.
The Kings next home game is tomorrow (Sunday) against the Kitchener Dutchmen. It’s an afternoon game, with the puck dropping at