The Elmira Sugar Kings couldn’t have asked for a better end to the 2008-2009 regular season, defeating the fourth-place Listowel Cyclones 5-1 in three periods full of energetic, solid hockey at the Elmira Arena Feb. 22.
Both teams came to the arena knowing a lot was on the line. By defeating the Kings, the Cyclones, with 68 points, could have claimed a third-place playoff berth had the Waterloo Siskins, also with 68 points, not defeated the Cambridge Winter Hawks 4-1 on the same day. In the end, the Siskins’ win allowed the Waterloo squad to sneak into third place putting them two points (70) ahead of the Cyclones.
For the Sugar Kings, the outcome of their contest against Listowel had a very different meaning. With the team nestled in between the sixth place Winter Hawks, who were five points the richer before Sunday’s game, and the Guelph Dominators – who after Saturday’s 10-4 win over Owen Sound still lagged behind Elmira by 10 points – the game’s outcome was inconsequential in the standings. Their first-round opponent would remain Kitchener or the Waterloo Siskins.
But that didn’t stop the squad from coming out eager to cap the season with a win.
“It came from the dressing room; we[wanted] to go into the playoffs on a positive note, establishing ourselves as a team that’s going to work hard and be difficult to play against,” said coach Geoff Haddaway.
The win set the tone of play and the mentality the team is trying to adopt for the second season.
“It was a nice way to go into the playoffs with a good solid victory at home against a good team.”
The Kings broke the ice in the first frame when Tyler Kuntz, from Kyle Blaney, buried the rubber at 2:53. The Cyclones answered back a while later when Alex Alexander converted on a Brett Catto-Ari Lufshutz pass to even things out at 8:41.
A fast-paced, evenly contested match-up from the drop of the puck, there was little indication early on that the game would end with such a vast goal differential. Indeed, it wasn’t until the midway mark of the second period that the Kings reclaimed their lead, and not until the third frame that they added to a one-goal lead for the first time in the game.
Kyle McNeil, unassisted, made good on a blocker side shot at 9:49 of the middle frame to give his team the 2-1 lead. Both teams continued to battle hard for the puck, eager to tip the balance in their favour.
The Kings eventually got the edge, however, aggressively finishing their checks in the offensive zone, pressuring the Listowel defenders on the forecheck, and vigorously defending their lead when in their own zone. The home side didn’t let up and eventually the cracks in the Listowel wall started to show.
“It was a game where it was a 60-minute effort; I didn’t think there were a lot of let-ups: we started strong and we finished strong and that’s a challenging thing to do,” said Haddaway.
Indeed, that perseverance paid off in the middle frame as Josh Ranalli, from Brent Freeman and Patrick Shantz, was rewarded for his solid performance by banking one at 2:41. At 12:20, Kyle Blaney fed Jeff Zippel, who let a powerful shot rip from just over the blue line to make it a 4-1 game.
The Kings made it 5-1 at 18:45 on a beautiful play by Paul Thompson. The rookie forward from Woodstock stormed in with the puck on the right side, cycled behind the net, carried the puck out in front where he finally let a zinger rip from near the hash marks, the puck finding its way through traffic and into the back of the Listowel net.
After a challenging regular season that saw the Kings struggle with inconsistent performances at times, the Elmira squad pulled together in recent weeks, going 10-7-0-2 in 2009 and winning their three final games.
Though 2-3-0-1 against the Dutchmen this season, the Kings were only outscored 25-24. The Kings won twice (7-3 and 7-4) and lost once 5-4 in a shootout. Needless to say, fans can be prepared to see a close, fierce contest.
“We’re not a team that can rely on talent; we’re going to be playing a team in the playoffs that is as talented as any team in the league so, we have to be an ‘all-the-time team: we can’t just go out there and say ‘we’ve got this player and this player and this player, they’ll help us get this win.’ We’re not like that, we’re built for all 20 guys going and sticking to the game plan and if we don’t do that, then we don’t have success,” said Haddaway, noting that the team will also rely heavily on its fans for support.
“We’re really hoping that our community gets behind us; with the first two games on the road we’re going to be coming home for game three and it would be great if our arena was a really intimidating place to play: we’re going to need as much help from our fans as we can get if we’re going to have any chance in beating Kitchener.”