The Elmira Sugar Kings sit one win away from a Sutherland Cup appearance thanks to a gritty, hard-fought 1-0 win over the Listowel Cyclones on home ice Wednesday night. The victory put them up 3-2 in their best-of-seven series in the Cherrey Cup finals.
“Wow, that’s pretty exciting for everybody,” said coach Geoff Haddaway outside of the Kings’ dressing room following the win.
“A little too hard on both coaches though, I’m sure,” he added.
The win was a tremendous bounce-back game for goaltender Nick Horrigan and the Kings, who were handily defeated 5-1 one night earlier in Listowel in a game that saw Horrigan pulled after the fourth goal.
The keeper rebounded on Wednesday, stopping all 25 shots for the shutout.
Haddaway said that not only his goalie was better on this night, but the entire team as well.
“It was from Nick all the way out,” said Haddaway. “Nick was good, but I thought we were great in front of him and we had total commitment in the D-zone to play defensive hockey.”
The lone goal came courtesy of Lukas Baleshta on the powerplay in the second period when he pounced on a loose puck in a crowd of players in front of the Listowel net The point shot was bobbled by keeper
Anthony Peters and the puck somehow ended up right on Baleshta’s stick in front of an open net.
“I said in my mind, ‘please don’t blow the whistle because I can see the puck’ and he (Baleshta) just had to put it in the empty net,” said Haddaway. “I could have scored that one.”
Defenceman Wade Pfeffer and Jordan Benton picked up the assists on the goal. It was Baleshta’s fourth of the playoffs, and first since game-one of the series.
Following the Kings’ win in that game Mar. 30, a 4-1 final, they travelled to Listowel Apr. 1 looking to go up 2-0 in the series. However, Listowel responded with a tighter defensive game and managed to emerge with a 4-2 win on their home ice. Brad Kraus (Josh MacDonald, Josh Woolley) scored in the first and Brennon Pearce tallied in the second from Jarred Parent and Brady Campbell, but it wasn’t enough as Listowel fired four pucks past Horrigan on 31 shots for the win.
Back home last Sunday afternoon, the Kings answered back with one of their best defensive efforts of the playoffs by winning a tight 2-1 match in front of their home crowd. Listowel’s Caleb Cameron opened the scoring 11:56 into the first and Brad Kraus answered back six minutes later from Campbell and MacDonald.
Ryan Clarkson scored the eventual winner at 4:52 of the second from Baleshta and Colton Wolfe-Sabo.
Horrigan was strong in net making 32 saves for the win.
On Tuesday night Listowel cracked Horrigan yet again, this time putting four pucks past him on just 17 shots to go up 4-0 at 14:40 of the second period before he was pulled in favour of Matt Smith. The Cyclones would add one more before the end of the period to make it 5-0. Elmira’s Clayton Greer broke the shutout bid with just over three minutes left in the game on the powerplay from Wade Pfeffer and Spencer MacCormack.
As he has shown all series, Horrigan once again bounced back and posted the shutout on Wednesday night to put the Kings on the brink of advancing to the Sutherland Cup for the first time in three years.
Wednesday night featured some good old-fashioned hockey with big hits all over the ice and big saves from the goalies at both ends as well. Listowel keeper Anthony Peters was the busier of the two, making 50 saves in the hard-luck loss, but Horrigan managed to match him shot for shot and finished with 25 saves of his own.
Both teams tried to get into the face of each goaltender all night, causing countless scrums and melees after the whistle.
“I thought they did a good job of playing good, physical, clean hockey,” said Haddaway of both teams.
“That’s just an intense playoff hockey game out there.”
While the first period only had one minor penalty called, it was the second period which was the most heated. The second saw 12 minors given to both clubs and two 10-minute misconducts, one to Brennon Pearce of the Kings and one to Brett Catto of the Cyclones.
The third only had one minor for each squad as well.
And while the Kings did go 1-6 on the powerplay on the night, the man advantage continues to be dismal for both sides. Elmira has scored three goals with the extra man in the series (3-30, 10 per cent) while Listowel is even worse, with just two goals in 28 tries (seven per cent).
Game-six went Friday night in Listowel, but results were not available prior to publication.
Home-ice advantage has certainly lived up to its name in the series thus far: the Listowel arena has not been kind to the Kings, as they have lost both games there by a combined score of 9-3, while winning all three at home by a 7-3 margin.
The smaller rink may have something to do with that discrepancy, and Haddaway says he is working on the necessary adjustments with the players.
“I think we have to have the same mentality that we did tonight, and that’s to get pucks to the net,” he said.
If necessary, game 7 goes tomorrow night (Sunday) at the Woolwich Memorial Center at 7 p.m.