If the Elmira Sugar Kings seemed to be on a losing streak in December, it can be said with certainty that their luck has turned around in the new year. Elmira now finds itself neck-and-neck with the Stratford Cullitons for the fifth place spot in the Midwestern Conference after consecutive wins last weekend against two fairly competitive teams, the Cambridge Winter Hawks (3-2) and Stratford (5-4).
Saturday’s game in Cambridge saw the host team find the net first on a goal by Tyler Luikkonen halfway into the second period, with Elmira’s Josh Woolley – assisted by Lukas Baleshta – close on his heels with one of his own. The Winter Hawks regained the lead before the period was out, however, as Luikkonen potted his second.
Early in the third period Tyson LeBlanc, with help from Baleshta and Riley Sonnenburg, tied things up at 2-2, at which point the game really got interesting for the fans in the stands. At 19:26, Elmira’s Jon Jutzi (Sonnenburg) scored what would prove to be the clinching goal on the power play, but Cambridge was later awarded a penalty shot, adding to the tension in the dying seconds of the game.
“It was pretty exciting; scoring with 40 seconds to go,” said Elmira coach Geoff Haddaway. “One of Cambridge’s best players got to take a penalty shot with 1.3 seconds left and Nick [Horrigan] stopped him in his tracks. It was great.”
And their momentum carried over strongly to their game at home the following day against Stratford, eliciting big cheers from the fans at the crowded Woolwich Memorial Centre.
Jarred Parent (Shane Smith) started the first period off right for the Kings with a clean goal just five minutes in, but the Cullitons pulled up their socks and retaliated with a power play goal by Craig Dalrymple just minutes later. Following in his teammate’s footsteps, Brad McClure made it 2-1 for the visitors before the end of the first.
“We struggled for the rest of that period. We tried to do a lot of individual things rather than working together,” noted Haddaway.
But the coach must have delivered the right message to his charges during the intermission because the Kings came onto the ice ready to play. Their efforts showed up on the scoreboard.
Only two minutes into the period, LeBlanc buried the rubber to tie up the game with help from Sonnenburg and Ryan Johnston, which seemed to set off a chain reaction for the team. Although Stratford outshot the Kings, netminder Brandon Gorecki was able to fend off the attack, giving Sonnenburg the chance to turn the puck around and score another goal on the power play, with assists from LeBlanc and Baleshta.
Next up was Baleshta netting a goal of his own (Sonnenburg, LeBlanc) bringing the score to 4-2 for the Kings at the end of the second frame.
As the third go underway, the crowd was revved up and ready to let out a cheer when LeBlanc scored for the second time that night (Baleshta, Sonnenburg) on the power play, giving Elmira a strong lead, but perhaps a bit too much confidence.
“I wondered if we thought Stratford would just roll over and die,” said Haddaway. “They are certainly a good team so they are not just going to give up: there was too much time still left on the clock. We allowed them back in the game at that point.”
Stratford fought back hard and their efforts paid off when Brad McClure netted one, followed by another quick point for the Cullitons by Steve McParland on the power play. In the third frame, Stratford outplayed Elmira, tallying 11 shots to Elmira’s four and applying tremendous pressure in the final 10 minutes. Their efforts were rewarded, but it was not enough to tie up the game, leaving them one goal behind at the final buzzer.
“Once we got to 5-4 I think we did a really good job shutting them down,” said Haddaway. “When you have an opponent down three goals at home, you want to make sure they stay down, so hopefully we learned a lesson there when they started to catch up.”
The Kings take three consecutive wins into this weekend’s match-ups against Guelph and Kitchener.
“I know we were on a losing streak but I thought we were playing quite well. It was just a matter of being a little bit more consistent within those 60 minutes,” said Haddaway of the pre-Christmas stretch. “It’s nice for the guys to get rewarded for their hard work.”
The Kings are home tomorrow night (Sunday) to face the Kitchener Dutchmen. Game time is 7 p.m.