Heading into last Sunday afternoon’s home game against the Brantford Golden Eagles, Elmira Sugar Kings head coach, Dean DeSilva, could not have been more pleased with his team’s record so far this season.
Boasting a 4-0 record and facing the third-place Golden Eagles the Kings managed to pull out a 3-2 win, keeping them in first place in their division. The victory came despite a slow start that saw the visitors dominate the Elmira defence.
Bolstering the confidence of the Kings was the fact that they killed off three consecutive minor penalties that resulted in the Golden Eagles having brief periods of 5-on-3 play. Despite the extra man advantage, Brantford still couldn’t beat netminder Nick Horrigan, who stopped 12 shots on net in the first.
“Nick Horrigan as a goaltender has to be the best penalty killer, and he was outstanding tonight. He came up big and has the experience. Having a solid goaltender like that in net helps the young defence develop: we know they are going to make mistakes, but he is there to save them,” said DeSilva.
The coach also credited his penalty killers for doing a “tremendous job.” They had quite a workout, as the Kings took eight penalties during the game.
“We have got some young guys in the back end and a lot of experience up front, but the guys who are a young group back there did a great job.”
With neither team scoring in the opening frame, the Kings didn’t really find their game gear until well into the second period. During a Golden Eagles penalty, the Kings came down on a rush that saw Riley Sonnenburg feed a beautiful pass to Craig Johnson, who followed through on a one-timer that beat Eagles goaltender Bryce O’Hagan to score the period’s only goal at 8:17.
Returning to the ice for the third, the Brantford came out hard and fast, taking the game to Elmira. Golden Eagles defenceman Brandon Montour finally beating Horrigan, finding the back of the net at 8:48 to tie the game.
The Kings rallied to score three minutes later to regain the lead on a 2-on-3 rush that saw Lukas Baleshta set up Will Cook as he beat O’Hagan with a one-timer at 11:33.
Brantford came back with just over four minutes left to play, however, when forward Mitch Brown made a quick pass to Nick Szabo who fed Nate Mitton, who then managed to slip it between Horrigan and the post to tie the game at 15:46. Locked at 2-2, the game would go into overtime.
One of the Kings’ best scoring chances came early in OT on a play from Andrew Smith. In his own end, Smith made a good effort to clear the puck from his zone. The puck was bobbled by the Brantford defence and Smith was able to get the puck back for a good break in on O’Hagan. Smith fired the puck high and the goalie got just enough of it to deflect it up and past the post.
However in the dying seconds OT, Smith would redeem himself to notch his first goal of the game courtesy of a 3-on-3 rush saw Justin Cook pass to Clayton Greer who fed it to Smith, with O’Hagan appearing to be caught off guard by the quick play.
Horrigan made 38 saves for the Sugar Kings, while O’Hagan finished with 30. The Golden Eagles failed to convert on eight power-play opportunities, whereas the Kings cashed one of their chances.
With the team’s fifth win in a row, DeSilva said there was still a lot of room for improvements especially when it comes to handling the puck through the neutral zone.
“It’s guys trying to be too fancy. Some guys are not used to playing at this level and this intensity and are just not strong enough on the stick, something that we can talk to them about it but until they experience it that is what it’s going to take. Now, hopefully we will see them get a little bit better and better as the season progresses.”
Team captain Colton Wolfe-Sabo said it is up to the older players like him step up and guide newer players.
“Our systems are really good and we have great coaches and as long as everyone buys into the system then we are going to be able to out play anyone,” he said. “There are a lot of young guys on the team right now, but us older guys just have to teach them how to do it. Everyone on the team is a very quick learner and they pick up on it very quickly, that is why we are doing so well.”