Sugar Kings star Zac Coulter scored a Gordie Howe hat trick –a fight, goal and an assist – but it wasn’t enough to power Elmira past the Winter Hawks in the second leg of their home-and-home series last weekend.
The first-place Kings blanked Cambridge 3-0 in the first leg, January 31 on the road. But the visitors brought a tighter game to the WMC the following afternoon, edging out a 4-3 shootout victory.
Kings’ head coach Jeff Flanagan says the loss reinforced a lesson his staff has been working hard to impress on the team: discipline is critical.
“We took a couple penalties that I would venture to say were undisciplined and subsequently we were scored on, on the power plays,” he said. “We have to eliminate the undisciplined penalties. Undisciplined penalties are slashing, cross checking, roughing or any sort of inciting penalties where players are, for lack of a better term, chirping. We don’t mind hard working penalties; if it’s a battle and a guy takes a penalty in the heat of the moment between the whistles, that’s part of the game.”
He added, “We have the choice of what we do when we’re on the ice. When you slash someone, you had the intent to slash them, obviously. Where as if you get tied up with someone and they fall and you get called for tripping, that’s a hockey play that’s going to happen.”
The Kings incurred 15 infractions including a pair of fighting majors to Steven Jakiela and Coulter.
They played well five-on-five, Flanagan said, noting his team’s fast start.
Mitch Wright got Elmira on the board just two minutes in with a power play marker assisted by Coulter and Chad Herron.
Coulter made it two-zip at 9:47, from Brodie Whitehead and Mac Clutsam.
The Hawks clawed one back late in the period on the power play after Whitehead took a cross checking penalty.
Clutsam gave the home side a two goal cushion in the second with a power play goal assisted by Mitch Klie and Wright.
But the third was all Cambridge, as the visitors scored a power play goal to get back within one and notched the tying goal with their goalie pulled at 18:31.
Four-on-four overtime solved nothing, so it was onto the shootout, where Klie and Wright both failed to score.
The Hawks put a pair past Jonathan Reinhart to claim the win.
The matchup will cost the Kings the services of Coulter for the next two games, as the club’s top scorer received a suspension for instigating a fight.
On the injury front, Klie took a high stick at the opening face-off that broke his nose, but the team captain returned to the game wearing a full facemask.
It was a tough loss, but Flanagan was happy with the team’s effort.
“We think from a systems stand point, from an effort stand point and from an attitude stand point, our guys are doing well and they are executing the things that we are asking of them and it just comes down to making a few less mistakes.”
A night earlier, the Kings were firing on all cylinders.
Jakiela opened the scoring in the first period (Brendan Schneider, Marselis Subban) at 14:00.
The game remained 1-0 until Wright added an insurance goal 8:07 into the third.
Whitehead sealed the deal with an empty-netter at 19:31 (unassisted).
With the split, the Kings held onto their first place position atop the GOJHL Midwestern Conference, just a point better (with one game in hand) than the Kitchener Dutchmen with eight games remaining.
The boys are back in action Saturday evening against the Waterloo Siskins at the WMC. Game time is 7 p.m.