In the first period it looked as though The Elmira Sugar Kings were going to have a hard time against the Listowel Cyclones in the opening game of the first round of the playoffs, as the host team was missing four key players, Clayton Greer, Riley Sonnenburg, Lukas Baleshta and Michael Hasson. Elmira, however, easily skated away with a 5-2 victory over the Cyclones Wednesday night at the WMC. Brett Priestap provided the heroics, scoring two goals in the second period to give the Kings a two-goal advantage.
Listowel was first on the scoreboard, catching Elmira off guard and tallying a goal just 12 seconds in. The visitors went on to post a 2-1 advantage after the first 20 minutes.
The atmosphere was electric once game time arrived at the Dan Snyder Arena and the Kings wanted to keep the raucous environment alive. The game was fierce and physical in the first period as both teams tried to establish themselves in that department.
After Listowel’s first goal there weren’t many excellent scoring chances early on. But at 7:53 Listowel scored their second when defenceman Sam Patterson stripped Elmira defender Mac Clustsam at the side of the Kings’ goal. Patterson put a shot on goal that produced a rebound his linemate Caleb Cameron lifted over netminder Nick Horrigan’s left pad.
Elmira finally got on the board when team captain Colton Wolfe-Sabo, off a feed from his linemate Brad Kraus, fired a one-timer from the blue line that squeezed past Cyclone goalie Michael Pesendorfer.
“Listowel did what we thought they would, they came out flying. We had a little bit of jitters, but that is to be expected: we have some young guys that have never gone through this before and four very key guys out of the lineup. I am not sure any team in the league could have those players out and still compete as hard as our guys did,” said head coach Dean DeSilva following the game.
Returning to the ice after the first intermission the Kings went back to their game as Listowel stuttered, allowing the Kings to score three unanswered goals in the period. Brady Campbell got things rolling, beating Pesendorfer with chip over the glove at 7:26 to tie the game at two.
Three minutes later Brett Priestap would break away down the ice from deep in the Kings’ zone during a Cyclone powerplay and score a shorthanded goal to give Elmira the lead for the first time. “I managed to intercept the puck and blew past the defenceman – I chipped it ahead and got a breakaway and managed to score. I was pretty fired up about the goal,” said Priestap after the game. Priestap would end the period notching another goal, giving the Kings a 4-2 lead heading back to the room.
“I was actually trying to pass to (Andrew Smith) when the puck bounced off the defenceman’s stick and through the goalie’s legs, so I got lucky on there – I didn’t plan on that one,” said Priestap. “We are just excited to be playing playoff hockey. Some the guys went all the way last year to the Sutherland Cup and perhaps we got just a little too excited at first, but we settled and focused on our game plan.”
The Kings hit two posts early in the third period and were unable to squeeze the rubber past Pesendorfer until defenceman Brodie Whitehead fired a wrist shot from just outside the crease beating the tender high to the right side and giving Elmira its fifth goal of the night.
“In the playoffs, things are going to happen; we can’t control the bounces but you have to stick to what your game plan is and not panic, and that is what our guys did tonight. The leaders lead and lead by example. Guys like Priestap, Campbell and Scott Nagy lead by example and the rest of the guys just followed in and we stuck with what we had to do,” said DeSilva.
Up 1-0, the Kings head to the Listowel Memorial Arena Friday for game-2 the series. DeSilva expects to be able to put a full and healthy team back on the ice for the Kings’ next home game at the Woolwich Memorial Centre on Sunday, when the puck drops at 7 p.m.