The Elmira Sugar Kings split the weekend ending their regular season, winning at home over the visiting Stratford Cullitons Sunday but losing a tightly-fought game the night before in Brantford. That, however, is exactly what head coach Dean DeSilva was hoping for. “Honestly, it was probably the best thing that could have happened. The way I look at it is that we had won 10 games in a row and, as a coach, I wanted to go into the playoffs with at least one more loss just to ground us,” said DeSilva. “I know it was important to get first place but I am alright with our result this season. During the year we won a number of games in a row and we got too high and I really wanted these guys to be grounded going into the playoffs.”
The Kings (40-9-2) in fact finished the season in third place in the Midwestern Conference behind Stratford (41-9-1) and the first-place Brantford Golden Eagles (41-7-3). The weekend got rolling with a visit to Brantford Feb. 25. The Kings got on the board first when Andrew Smith scored during a powerplay that had Eagles’ forward Brett Appio in the box for crosschecking. “We had an outstanding first period. We played really well, but we lost all that after the second and we became undisciplined and took some penalties and sat back a little bit,” said Desliva. “At the end of the first we were up 1-0 and by the end of the second we were down 2-1.”
The second frame was all Brantford as they outshot and outscored the Kings. Eagles’ forward Mike Riley would find the back of the net six minutes into the period to tie the game, with Brantford’s Mike Rebry scoring the second of the frame as time wound down.
The Kings opened things up in the third, scoring the tying goal in the last minute with netminder Nick Horrigan on the bench in favour of an extra attacker. With the game tied at two apiece the teams played through OT then headed to a shootout that saw both goalies put in strong performances, but the Eagles came away 3-2 winners. “It was good game and the guys played well. The bounces could have gone either way and we will learn from it and go forward from there,” said DeSilva. The next night the Kings played host to the Stratford Cullitons at the Dan Snyder Arena, skating to a much easier 4-1 victory in front of 1,254 fans.
“We want to play tough at home and make it a tough building to play in – it was important to bounce back from the game the other night,” said DeSilva. “We have been telling the guys that everything has been like a playoff series for the last couple of weeks. We had an emotional game one night and you have to play the next night how are you going to react that is going to make the difference. I want my guys to react to that kind of thinking. That is the kind of mentality that we have been trying to prepare for the playoffs for the last two weeks.”
Stratford drew first blood when forward Brock Reynolds beat Horrigan with a chip over the glove at 4:48 but it would be the last of the night for the Cullitons, as Elmira would score four unanswered goals.
Elmira’s Lukas Baleshta tied in the first when Will Cook picked up the rubber at the blue line and send a beautiful pass to Scott Nagy who was skating to the net only to pass to Baleshta at the last second and catching Cullitons’ netminder Taylor Dupuis off guard.
Returning in the second Elmira was on the scoreboard early when Brad Kraus beat Dupuis with a one-timer giving the Kings a 2-1 lead. Cass Frey and Nagy collected the assists. The remainder of the period would see both teams with good chances only to be denied by the goaltenders who mustered up both skill and luck to keep the game close going into the third. Kings forward Patrick McKelvie gave the boys in green a 3-1 lead just over four minutes into the third frame when he beat Dupuis on the stick side.
Smith made it 4-1 when he scored during a man on advantage that had Culliton Calvin Thomson in the box for crosschecking. With the regular season over the Kings prepared to face the Listowel Cyclones in the first round of playoffs that started Wednesday night. DeSilva knows it’s a whole new season when it comes to the playoffs. “Over seven games anything can happen. It is learning to play through that adversity, learning to deal with unexpected moments like referees missing calls – we are going to make bad plays but we just have to keep the bus in the right path and not get off,” said DeSilva. “We will be prepared for them and I am confident if we play
our game we will do just fine.”