The Elmira Sugar Kings saw both sides of the spectrum last weekend, blowing the Owen Sound Greys out of the water with a 12-0 win Feb. 6, before losing 6-3 to the Kitchener Dutchmen in Elmira on Sunday.
The Kings (20-23-5) are now in 17th place in the league, and seventh place in the conference. With four games remaining on the season calendar, the Kings are six points ahead of the Guelph Dominators, and 31 ahead of Owen Sound. This season the Kings have outscored the Greys 32-10.
Despite their 12-0 shellacking of the Greys, Sugar Kings’ coach Geoff Haddaway acknowledged that his team’s performance against the foundering squad Feb. 6 wasn’t perfect.
“We didn’t actually play very well in the first period; I think the shots were 8-8 or 9-9 after the first period, but really, all three of our shots should have been saved, so, a lot of times you go up there you struggle with your legs a bit just because of the bus ride,” said the coach.
It didn’t take the Kings long to gain their footing, however.
“After that we really sort of got to our game plan and they struggled to keep up. We just kept pushing the puck in deep – they had a really short bench and I think we just wore them out.”
And wear them out they did.
Kyle Blaney opened the scoring for the Kings at 2:13 of the first period and the bloodletting continued well into the third and final frame as the Kings potted one goal after another. Brent Freeman, who connected with line mates Josh Ranalli and Kyle McNeil for a combined 12 points, netted three; Zach Salomon buried two, and Nic MacEachern, Jarred Parent, Jake Jefferies, Kyle McNeil, Trent Brown, and Shane Smith potted one each to make it an unforgiving 12-0 ravaging of the home side.
Elmira goalie Jake Williams earned his second shutout of the season, stopping all 22 shots he faced.
Next up was a very different game against the Kitchener Dutchmen in Elmira Feb. 8.
Kitchener drew first blood at 1:20, when Tony Blyde converted on an Andrew Wilson pass.
But it didn’t take long for Elmira to get back into the game, and at 4:29 Paul Thompson, from Salomon and Smith made it 1-1.
Kitchener, however, got the best of the Kings in the initial frame, adding two more goals, courtesy of Shane Bainbridge (Alex McCaffrey and Duston Hebebrand) at 5:38 and Blyde (Justin Knee) at 18:38.
The second period saw the Dutchmen extend their lead by a four goal margin, adding two more goals to make it a 5-1 game. Matthew DeJong from Justin Knee netted a short-hander at 3:23 and Todd Martin (Bainbridge) potted his first on the night to make it 5-1 at 11:12.
The Kings managed to squeak one in at 15:07, courtesy of Tyler Kuntz on the power play; Jeff Zippel and Ranalli picked up an assist each.
In the third period Kitchener added another goal to its basket, making it 6-2 at 13:13 on the strength of a Mike Doran goal on the power play; Hebebrand and Todd Martin picked up the helpers.
The Kings battled back to get into the game and, convinced it wasn’t over, kept pushing.
Michael Therrien scored a beauty at 16:04, cutting in close on Jordan Bowes’ blocker side before banking in the puck on his back hand, threading it through the goalie’s glove hand side.
But by this point it was too little too late: Kitchener successfully thwarted Elmira’s desperate attempts to reverse the course of the game.
“I don’t think we matched Kitchener’s intensity – no excuses, they were just the better team,” said Haddaway, who praised the effort of his team’s secondary, grinder lines.
“I also thought it showed that we have some guys on our team that escape the limelight – like Parent, Salomon and Thompson – I thought they had really strong games; I thought they were probably the most energetic – Tyler Kuntz is another guy – you don’t hear very often; they just had really solid games and showed that if other guys aren’t going they can step up and assume bigger roles.”
Those players, consequently, saw a lot of playing time in both games. And that’s something that wasn’t lost on Salomon, a former Cambridge Winter Hawk who was acquired by the Kings mid-season.
“We’re a fourth line, but we know we have to work our way up,” said Salomon, who plays with Thompson, and usually, a rotating winger, oftentimes a call-up.
“We’re more of an energy line and sometimes when we keep on working we get points; we sometimes get rewarded with a little more ice time,” he said.
“[Thompson] is a good, hard worker; he’s a rookie like myself; we both know what we have to do to move up lines and possibly get more ice time next year and become stronger players so, we’re both developing and are both on the same page,” said Salomon, noting that if the Kings maintain the same level of hockey in the playoffs, they should do well in the post season.
It’s a busy weekend for the Kings, who follow a Friday night visit to Waterloo with a game in Guelph Saturday before returning home to face Owen Sound Sunday night. Game time at the Elmira Arena is 7 p.m.