The Elmira Sugar Kings put on a dominant display of hockey last weekend with a pair of complete wins against out-of-conference foes.
The Kings scored 17 goals by the time the weekend was over, including a 12-2 dismantling of the Fort Erie Meteors Nov. 19 on the road, and a 5-1 victory at home over the Niagara Falls Canucks in their first meeting since the Sutherland Cup Finals last May.
The wins were a welcome reprieve for the Kings, who have struggled ever since they jumped out to a 14-0 start to the year.
In the eight games following that win streak the Kings sported a mediocre 3-5 record, losing to division-leaders Stratford twice and falling to third in the standings.
That less-than-stellar play led the coach to challenge his players to follow the system his staff had laid out, and to be ready to play every night.
“Our message was that we want to be one of the top teams in the league, but we haven’t beaten the top teams in the league yet,” said head coach Dean DeSilva following the win last Sunday against Niagara.
Their back-to-back wins should go a long way in righting the ship.
In the match against Niagara Falls, the Kings proved they were the capable of taking down a top opponent with a complete victory against the Canucks; with a record of 15-4-4 the Sutherland Cup finalists are currently second in the Golden Horseshoe Conference.
“I thought we probably played the best game of the year (against Niagara),” said DeSilva.
“We played a full 60-minutes as a team and I thought our best players were our best players. Everybody did their job.”
One of the team’s best players agreed.
“In the last couple of games we haven’t been up to par and worked hard enough or done the little things needed to win hockey games,” said Andrew Smith, who was recently named the Midwestern Conference Player of the Month for October after registering 12 goals and 12 assists in 11 games last month.
“We knew we had to come out strong because Niagara Falls is a good team.”
In the opening period, Elmira put their foot down and never let up. They dominated the period on both the shot clock, outshooting Niagara 21-4, and on the scoreboard, leading 2-0 by the end of the frame.
Michael Hasson opened the scoring at 13:57 after a turnover in the neutral zone. Hasson received a pass from defenceman Craig Johnson and with a clear path to the net he likely caught Canucks goaltender Cody Vinnai off guard when he unleashed a wicked slap shot into the top corner for a 1-0 lead.
Smith added to that lead with a terrific individual effort in the neutral zone. He picked up the loose puck and used his speed to catch the defence flatfooted, then sent a quick wrist shot into the top corner with just 32 seconds left on the clock – a goal very similar to Hasson’s.
In the second period the Kings put the game out of reach early. On the very first shift of the period, Brett Priestap tallied his 10th goal of the season on what appeared to be a broken play. He crossed the blue line and his initial wrist shot was blocked but bounced back onto his stick, and with the Niagara keeper out of position he sent a shot into the open net. Hasson and Riley Sonnenburg picked up the assists.
Just 14 seconds later the Kings made it 4-0 when Cash Seraphim slipped home his first goal of the year by pouncing on a rebound on a shot from Lukas Baleshta. Smith picked up the other assist.
From there on, the Kings continued to win the battles for loose pucks, and appeared hungrier than Niagara throughout the entire game. At one point the Kings had as many goals as the Canucks did shots, and by the end of the second Elmira held a 42-10 advantage overall.
In the third, Brodie Whitehead rounded out the Kings scoring at 2:27, and Niagara’s Cam McLean spoiled the shutout bid at 7:03 on a bit of a weak shot through the legs of Kings goaltender Nick Horrigan.
The coach said his lineup was outstanding from top to bottom.
“Everyone did their job tonight and it was an easy game to coach because they played the system and did what they were supposed to do.”
Towards the end of the game tempers began to boil over, something that is likely linked back to the heated playoff battle between the two clubs for the Sutherland Cup.
“We have that rivalry a bit from last year, but we’ve got a new team this year and a new group of guys and we played just as well against them tonight as we did last year,” said Smith.
The Kings are back in action tonight (Saturday) in Waterloo to take on the Siskins (7-15-2) at 7:30 p.m. and return to the Dan Snyder Arena Sunday to play the Kitchener Dutchmen (3-15-4). Game time is 7 p.m.