The last time the Kings played against the Stratford Cullitons, they needed overtime to win. But for Sunday night’s rematch at home, they decided to do it in regulation.
Brady Campbell scored his second goal of the period with 5:34 remaining in the third to break a 2-2 tie with the Cullitons and lift Elmira to their fourth win in a row in front of 700 spectators at the Dan Snyder Arena.
The win gave them three come-from-behind wins on the season, an effort that head coach Geoff Haddaway highly values.
“For us to dig down and come from behind is something you like to be able to do as a team, I think that’s something you can rally around,” he said.
The win also pushes their record to an impressive 6-1, good for second in the Midwestern Conference of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League. Only the Guelph Hurricanes, 9-1-1, have a better record.
The game didn’t start well for the Kings, however. They were outplayed for much of the first and were down 1-0 going into the first intermission.
“I certainly didn’t like our first period,” admitted Haddaway. “We stressed to the boys that we went into Stratford a few weeks ago and beat them, and we knew they were going to come out hard and try to turn the tables on us.
I’m not sure if we were as mentally prepared for that as we should have been.”
The game quickly turned into a goaltenders’ duel. Matthew Smith collected 39 saves for the Kings in the win, and Stratford goaltender Evan Groenestege finished with 43 saves, and was often the best player on the ice for the Cullitons. He made several key stops, including several highlight-reel glove saves, on the night.
“When we beat them in Stratford we scored two goals glove side, so they were trying to exploit that, but he was ready and made a couple outstanding glove saves.”
The closest the Kings came to finding the back of the net in the first period was when Brennon Pearce rang a shot off the crossbar from the right faceoff dot with 8:30 left in the frame.
Stratford went up 2-0 2:49 into the second period on the powerplay after some weak defensive work from the Kings. A poor clearing attempt ended up in the middle of the ice, and a few seconds later it was in the back of the net.
That goal seemed to spark the Kings, however. They played grittier hockey and started making cleaner passes.
Perhaps most importantly, they got back to their game: chipping the puck in deep and establishing a forecheck.
“We’re a forechecking team,” said Haddaway, “and if we don’t get the puck in deep, we’re not going to be as successful.”
Captain Josh Woolley finally broke the shutout bid at the 10:20 mark of the second. After killing off a Stratford powerplay, three Kings broke down the ice in an odd-man rush and with some nice passing between Brad Kraus and Lukas Baleshta, Woolley got the puck in the middle of the ice at the hash marks and made no mistake with a wrist shot on the blocker side.
Fans in the Dan Snyder Arena erupted after the goal, and that momentum shift carried on into the third. Campbell scored at 6:21 of the third after some good work down low by Jarred Parent, and tied the game on a quick wrist shot, assisted by Parent and Wade Pfeffer.
He scored again at 14:26 on the powerplay, assisted by Colton-Wolfe Sabo and Pfeffer, to lift the Kings to a 3-2 victory.
Despite the fact he didn’t end up on the official scoresheet, the play of Spencer MacCormack was key for the wining goal. He parked his six-foot frame in front of the Stratford goal and provided an effective screen on the game-winning goal. That was after he left the game in the second period after blocking a shot on the penalty kill. It appeared to strike him in the left thigh, but he remained on the ice for another 30 seconds or so until the puck was out of the zone. He also leads the team in scoring with nine points.
“Spencer has had a great start to the season, and he worked hard in the off-season, so it’s nice to see him rewarded for all that hard work.”
The third-period comeback also highlighted the play of rookie forward Brady Campbell so far this season.
Campbell is showing a goal-scorers touch in his first season with the Kings, and he has four goals and eight points in the first seven games this season. He spent last year with his hometown team, the Blenheim Blades, where he collected 19 goals and 20 assists in 40 games.`
“I have to give him credit, in the third period he was outstanding and very opportunistic. He’s one of those players that the puck will find, and he’s got some natural goal-scoring ability. He put the puck in the net, but I think his linemates put him in a good position to score,” said Haddaway.
The start of the game was delayed about 35 minutes while workers replaced a pane of glass that had broken during the warm-up near the visiting team’s penalty box. The Kings also observed a moment of silence prior to the national anthem for the sudden death of Norwich Merchants defenceman Ben Pearson, 20, a former Cambridge Winter Hawk and friend of Josh Woolley.
The Kings have had the last week to rest and prepare for their game against the Niagara Falls Canucks this afternoon (Saturday) at 1:45 p.m. at the Pyramid Recreation Centre in St. Marys.