The Elmira Sugar Kings couldn’t have asked for a better start to their season as they’ve opened with three straight wins to take the early lead in the league standings.
They beat up on Owen Sound, Listowel and Waterloo in the last week, outscoring their opponents 14-7 to start the year 3-0 for the first time since the 2007-2008 season.
The season began with a dominant 5-2 win Sept. 2 over the Greys in Owen Sound where, despite some opening night jitters from many of their rookies, coach Dean DeSilva was pleased with the team’s performance.
“We were definitely, in my opinion, the team that carried most of the play,” he said. “Not taking away from Owen Sound, they took it to us in the second period and we got an early lead and sat back on it, which was a good eye-opener for us.”
That early lead came courtesy of Will Cook, who tallied the first Kings’ goal just 2:44 into the opening period, unassisted. The Kings would score twice more before heading to the locker room, thanks to Riley Sonnenburg’s first on the powerplay from Brett Priestap and Andrew Smith at 14:39, and Brady Campbell’s first just over three minutes later, from Lukas Baleshta and Clayton Greer.
In the second, Owen Sound cut the lead to two just 90 seconds in with a goal from Mitch Wright while Baleshta was in the box for tripping.
Campbell restored that three-goal lead with his second of the game at the 4:54 mark of the third, Wright scored shorthanded for the Greys at 8:16 and Baleshta rounded out the scoring on the powerplay at 11:23 from Cook and Justin Cooke.
Nick Horrigan picked up his first win of the year, making 20 saves.
The team hit the ice again in Sunday’s home-opener for an afternoon tilt against the Listowel Cyclones in a rematch of last season’s Cherrey Cup final. The game was delayed by more than 30 minutes after a pane of glass broke in the Cyclone end during warm-ups, and the game was further delayed by another 20 minutes for the pre-game ceremony to present last season’s Kings squad with their championship rings and to unveil their Sutherland Cup banner.
The long delay could have resulted in a sluggish start for both teams, but again Cook provided the fireworks early by scoring on a deflection, this one just 2:16 in from Cass Frey and Brennon Pearce.
“We challenged the players and said we wanted to get a good start after sitting around and the first ten minutes were key,” said DeSilva.
Listowel would respond at the 8:34 mark, however, on a one-on-one rush that looked harmless until David Dalby just flipped the puck at the net and squeezed it between Horrigan’s pad and the post to knot the game up at one.
The game would remain tied going into the first intermission, with Elmira holding a 16-13 edge in shots after 20 minutes.
In the second, the Kings soon put the game out of reach with three unanswered goals. Sonnenburg struck first just 2:29 in by sweeping around the Listowel net and firing the puck over the shoulder of the Cyclones keeper. Assists went to Andrew Smith and Priestap.
Sonnenburg would strike again just over five minutes later at 7:55 from Clayton Greer. Coming down the right wing the left-shooting centre cut in on the net and fired a quick shot through the legs of netminder Derek Mitchell for his second of the game and third in two nights.
Cook would score his second of the season at 10:39 from Priestap and Frey to put the Kings up 4-1.
Listowel closed the gap to 4-2 on the powerplay at 12:35 but went into the intermission down by two.
The lone Kings goal in the third came in the form of an empty netter from Smith at 19:21, unassisted, to ice the game 5-2.
Horrigan was solid in net making 34 saves on the night.
Wednesday night the 0-2 Waterloo Siskins rolled into town looking to spoil the Kings’ perfect record but it was the Kings who kept the Siskins winless in a tight 4-3 win. Nick Coone made his first start of the season and made 24 saves for the win.
The first period was marked by sloppy play with a lot of passes ending up in players skates or going the length of the rink for icing calls, but Elmira managed to emerge with a 2-1 lead after 20 minutes on goals from Priestap (Sonnenburg, Cash Seraphim) at 9:40 and from Scott Nagy (Baleshta, Campbell) at 19:20.
Campbell extended the lead on a beautiful individual effort at 16:23 of the second when he broke in alone during a penalty kill, putting a backhand top corner to put the Kings up 3-1 heading into the third.
The Siskins made a game of it in the final period, however, with a goal just 5:05 in to cut the lead to one. Scott Nagy would pot his second of the game for the eventual game winner at 8:39 from Colton Wolfe-Sabo and Campbell.
Waterloo would score one more at the 13:15 mark and put good pressure on the Kings for the remainder of the game, but Coone stood tall and made several key saves late to preserve the victory.
Overall the coach is pleased with the way the Kings have started the season, in particular the young defence who he says are experiencing a bit of a baptism by fire as they navigate the season early on.
“[Assistant coach] Dave Lock has been working on their feet and their mobility and their agility in practice, and it helps having players like Colton Wolfe-Sabo and Clayton Greer back there,” said DeSilva.
DeSilva also knows that goals will be hard to come by as the season wears on, and that the team will adopt a “scoring by committee” mentality, something that is already evident as seven different Kings have scored at least one goal through the first three games.
The Kings are in Cambridge tonight (Saturday) to take on the Winter Hawks at 7 p.m., and return home tomorrow (Sunday) to face the always strong Brantford Golden Eagles at 2 p.m.