Having dropped the first two games of the round-robin portion of the Sutherland Cup playoffs, Elmira wasn’t in complete control of its destiny. But the Sugar Kings did their part, winning back-to-back games, including a 4-3 overtime nail-biter last Sunday night over Niagara Falls to clinch a spot in the finals.
That victory, coupled with a 4-1 win over St. Thomas and that team’s loss a day earlier to Niagara Falls, got the Kings where they needed to be.
The jockeying for position led to a real treat at the Woolwich Memorial Centre Apr. 24. With 1,220 fans in attendance, the noise in the Dan Snyder Arena was deafening as fans urged the team on to its second victory in as many nights.
“Our fans were unbelievable that game,” said Kings head coach Geoff Haddaway. “When we came out on Sunday it was the loudest I’ve ever heard it and I think that really got our guys going. We had a really strong start to our game, and I think a lot of that had to do with our fan support.”
Haddaway wondered what the noise level in the arena would sound like if every seat was filled.
“That would be an impressive accomplishment,” he said.
Despite almost doubling Niagara’s shot count, with final totals 61-35 in Elmira’s favour, the game was close, with a sudden-death finish.
The Kings’ strong start saw a lot of action in the Niagara zone, but at 8:55 the Canucks found the back of the Elmira net, drawing first blood. Elmira didn’t wait too long to counter, with Spencer MacCormack, assisted by Wade Pfeffer and Lukas Baleshta, taking advantage of a power play at 12:34. The first period ended with the teams tied at one apiece.
Elmira would continue to make use of their special teams in the second frame, scoring one powerplay goal and one shorthanded goal.
Brad Kraus took it to the net with the help of Josh MacDonald and Pfeffer at 6:58 with th man advantage. Less than three minutes later, Brady Campbell scored an unassisted goal while Elmira’s Andrew Smith was serving time in the box for charging. Niagara failed to secure a goal in the second, so the Kings went back to the room up 3-1.
“I thought we were fairly strong throughout the game, but we had a bit of a lapse in third,” Haddaway said. “I think I would describe it as off-focus. We knew if we won, we got to go to the Sutherland Cup and I wonder if when we scored to make it 3-1, we were too focused on that rather than just focusing on the game.”
That lack of focus in the third period would prove nearly fatal for the Kings, as the Canucks scored twice to even out the scoreboard. Elmira’s Baleshta got two minutes for slashing early in the period, giving Niagara a chance that they capitalized on at 4:43. They scored again before the period was half over, taking advantage of another powerplay at 7:40. Regulation play finished with a score of 3-3.
An intense and noisy over time period saw each team striving to finish off the other. At 10:01 into OT, MacDonald, assisted by Campbell and Andrew Smith, made that a reality for the Kings as he slipped the puck past Canucks goalie Michael Gallardi during some heavy traffic in front of the net.
“I think Niagara Falls is a good team and they took advantage of that, fortunately we were able to pull it out in the end and we still get to move on,” Haddaway said.
The two teams now square off in the best-of-seven finals, with the victor claiming the Junior B’s highest prize. The Kings were in Niagara Falls Friday night before returning home Sunday for game two. The festivities get underway at the WMC at 7 p.m.