The Elmira Sugar Kings emerged from a tough weekend with four of a possible six points, putting an end to a three-game slide and showing their coach what they’re made of.
They lost their opening game of the weekend Oct. 15 on the road against the Listowel Cyclones by a score of 6-3 before bouncing back to win a pair at home Saturday and Sunday.
Even the Friday night game has its positives, as the team was in it for much of the night before the wheels came off in the third.
Still, coach Geoff Haddaway was blunt about his team’s performance after the game.
“We just didn’t compete hard enough, especially along the walls,” he said. “We didn’t take care of the puck, win lines, get pucks in deep, and play the way we need to play to be successful.”
The loss was the Kings’ third in a row, their longest losing skid since a five-game streak from Feb. 16 to Feb. 28 to end last season.
“I challenged them,” said Haddaway about the three-game losing streak. “I said ‘guys we’re going to find out about the character of our team tomorrow (Saturday) night. We’ve lost three in a row. We need to execute the game plan.’ And we did.”
The Kings returned to the ice less than 24 hours later in a match at home against the Waterloo Siskins. Having a game the next night really helped the team bounce back and forget about their poor performance, he said.
The Kings played perhaps their most complete game of the season by beating the Siskins 8-0, a welcome sight for the coach and his staff.
“We hadn’t had a 60-minute effort for a while, and the best thing about a loss is to play right away and get back at it.”
Brad Kraus opened the scoring 11:50 into the first period with his fifth of the year, a shorthanded goal assisted by Shane Smith. Kraus took advantage of a turnover at the Kings’ blueline by the Siskin defence and managed to fight off both players as he skated in alone and shoveled the puck through the legs of Siskins’ goalie Justis Husak while falling to the ice. It was the team’s second shorthanded goal of the season.
Elmira outshot Waterloo by a slim margin, 12-10, but one of the turning points of the game came a few minutes after Kraus had scored. Waterloo’s Mitch Facey broke in alone against Matthew Smith, who made a tremendous save with his left pad to keep the score 1-0. Smith posted 27 saves for the shutout.
“It’s a different hockey game if that goes in,” said Haddaway of the save in the first. “That’s what we expect from Matt and Nick [Horrigan], and that’s one of our strengths. We have two good goalies.
Matt was able to step up in that instance and make a big save for us and allow us to continue working to score a couple goals for him.”
And score they did. Elmira potted five straight goals in the second period to put a strangle-hold on the game. Josh Woolley scored 1:24 into the period on a nice tip on a shot from Jonathan Rizzo that went through the legs of the Siskin goalie.
Josh MacDonald scored at 3:31 on a bit of a lucky bounce. Andrew Smith shot a rolling puck from along the half-boards, and the Waterloo keeper couldn’t handle the rebound, which MacDonald tucked into the open side of the net to put the Kings up 3-0. It was his fourth of the year. Cass Frey picked up the other assist on the goal.
MacDonald would add to that total less than five minutes later on the rush by cutting into the centre of the ice from the right wing, making a nice move on the goalie, and tucking it past the keeper’s right pad.
Brady Campbell scored the team’s second shorthanded goal of the night at 10:23, assisted by Kraus and Lukas Baleshta. Devon Wagner rounded out the scoring at 19:12 of the period, assisted by Kraus and Jarred Parent. The Kings dominated the period, outshooting the Siskins 24-9.
Parent scored at 5:04 of the third on a tipped point shot from Shane Smith, and Smith also scored on the powerplay with a nice wrist shot into the top corner at 17:03 of the third from Kraus and Parent.
Haddaway was happy with the way his team bounced back from their performance the previous night.
“It was nice to see them respond with the effort on Saturday against a team in Waterloo that were hot; they had won three or four in a row and came in feeling good about themselves. I thought, as the game wore on, we took advantage of our opportunities.”
That momentum carried on into their final game of the weekend on Sunday night against the Brantford Golden Eagles, who fell 7-3.
“When you’re the two-time defending champion, everyone is ready. They beat us out [in last year’s playoffs] and went on to win the championship, so that’s a pretty easy game to get ready for.”
The Kings opened the game with a dominant performance in the third, outshooting the Eagles 24-7, but couldn’t find the back of the net.
Baleshta probably had the best chance of the period when Spencer MacCormack spotted him alone in the high slot and made a perfect pass, but Baleshta fired it high.
Another great opportunity came with 5:00 left in the first when after a quick faceoff win by the Kings, the puck sat inches away from the Eagles’ goal line and the left post, but no King could bang it home.
Kraus finally broke through early in the second with his sixth of the year at 1:05, assisted by Josh Woolley and Wade Pfeffer.
Brantford managed to tie it up at 9:23 on the powerplay, but Brady Campbell restored the one-goal lead at 11:59 with his seventh of the year.
In the third period, the Kings continued to dominate all areas of the ice, and scored four goals in a span of 4:31; Woolley at 4:23 from Kraus and Clayton Greer, MacDonald at 5:05 from Parent and Andrew Smith, Campbell with his second of the night and team-leading eight of the year at 6:54 from Baleshta and MacCormack, and Corey Way at 8:54 from Colton Wolfe-Sabo and Devon Wagner.
Brantford scored two late goals at 10:13 and 17:55, but by then the game was out of reach. Parent finished the scoring at 19:10 by crashing the net, from Wagner and Wolfe-Sabo.
The coach rolled all four lines very affectively and was happy with the entire team’s performance against Brantford, and pointed out some of the little things that often go unnoticed to many fans.
“I thought Sunday was probably our most complete effort in terms of getting contributions from everybody. We went out there and got great contributions, finishing checks and working pucks down deep.”
On the road Wednesday night, Elmira posted a 6-4 victory over the LaSalle Vipers, extending the latest streak to three wins.
The Kings next game is tomorrow night (Sunday) at home against the Owen Sound Grey’s. The puck drops at 7 p.m.