It is true that, in recent weeks, the Elmira Sugar Kings have racked up more losses than wins, and it is also true that last Friday (February 15) and Sunday, the boys in green fell to both the Stratford Cullitons and the Listowel Cyclones (scores were 5-2 and 6-3 respectively). But for head coach Dean DeSilva, to focus on stats like these is to miss the forest from the trees.
“I know everybody kind of looks at the wins and losses,” said DeSilva. “But as a coaching staff, we’re looking at the work ethic our guys are putting out, and we’re very, very pleased.”
It is well known that the team has suffered from a surplus of injuries, and top players have been slow to trickle back from the recovery room to the dressing room, but DeSilva stresses that the last few months have been an instructive learning experience.
“It’s given players that are in the lineup an opportunity to try and step up their game, and a couple of our players have,” said Desilva. “I mean, Mitch Wright and Zac Coulter have been very, very good and really stepped up their game.
“And, it’s allowing other players to get some experience – they now understand that we might have players going against lines they wouldn’t normally go against when our top guys are out. So they’re seeing that challenge, and they’re learning what it’s going to take to have success in that role.”
Even though the Kings lost to the Cullitons on February 15, they did manage to tie the Stratford team for number of shots on net (35 each). The Cullitons potted the game’s first three goals – one in the first period, two in the second) – with the Kings finally making it to the board at 17:11 in the second, with a goal by Rob Kohli (assisted by Cass Frey and Matt Harding).
Elmira also scored first in the third period, with Adam Dauda (Brodie Whitehead, Jake Weidner) burying the puck at 3:44, but Stratford managed two more goals to seal the victory.
“Friday night against Stratford, they scored in the first minute of the first period on a bad line change,” said DeSilva. “But the rest of the period, I thought we completely outplayed them. We hit goalposts and we hit crossbars.”
Back on home ice on February 17, Elmira actually managed more shots on net than the Listowel Cyclones (49 versus 42), but the tenacity didn’t translate into points.
Elmira’s Steven Jakiela landed the first goal at 15:37 (with assists by Matt Schieck and Adam Brubacher), but Listowel countered with six seconds left to go, and then scored four goals in period two. Zac Coulter scored Elmira’s only goal of the second at 6:35 (assists from Schieck and Dauda), and then scored again at 7:41 in the third period, but one more goal from Listowel pushed the score to 6-3.
“With Listowel, I thought we were very good with them, very competitive,” said DeSilva. “We certainly have to get better at staying out of the penalty box, because five-on-five, we can be a very good hockey team. It’s tough taking the penalties that we’re taking, and if you put players in situations where they’re going up against more experienced players, it’s tough for them, and they’re going to take some of those hooking and holding penalties.”
The Kings are set to play two more games before the playoffs, where DeSilva hopes the hard knocks will lead to tough play. “We’ve got a very young team,” said DeSilva. “We’ve got a lot of rookies that are now in situations where they’re going against the top players in other teams. Ideally, it’s going to help us down the road.”
The Kings are on the road tonight (Saturday) to face the Cambridge Winter Hawks before returning to home ice on Sunday to play the Kitchener Dutchmen. The puck drops at 7 p.m.