A gutsy, spirited playoff run came to an end Wednesday night when the Elmira Sugar Kings were eliminated by the Brantford Golden Eagles in Game 6 of their semi-final series.
The disappointment was evident, but the Kings could leave the ice with their heads held high, having given the defending champions a run for their money.
The Kings took on Brantford after putting out Listowel in the first round. The odds favoured the Golden Eagles, who finished the season at the top of the Midwestern Conference of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League with a 42-5-4 record. In six matchups with Elmira during the regular season, Brantford won all six games handily.
“That team manhandled us all year long,” said head coach Geoff Haddaway. “There was one game here where it was 3-0 where we played a good game, but it wasn’t close all year. For our guys to stand up to them, to challenge them and show them that we could play – you have to take your hats off to the Sugar Kings.”
After stunning the Golden Eagles 5-2 in the opening game, the Kings lost the next three, putting their backs against the wall when they travelled to Brantford on Tuesday for Game 5. After giving up two goals little more than two minutes into the game, the Kings came out flying in the second period. A power play goal by Josh Wolley, a marker from Jon Jutzi and a second power play goal from Lukas Baleshta, and they were leading 3-2 by the end of the second.
Brantford tied things up two minutes into the third and the scored stayed 3-3 until Brad Kraus scored the game winner for Elmira with 24 seconds left, forcing Game 6.
Back home in Elmira on Wednesday night, the first period ended with both teams still scoreless. At 1:05 in the second, Kraus scored on a feed from Andrew Smith and Michael Therrien to put the Kings on the board. That slim lead lasted until midway through the period, when Brantford built up a commanding lead in a six-minute span. Luke Van Moerkerke and Josh McQuade scored a pair of shorthanded goals in quick succession, and a few minutes later, Mike Ryan added a pair to make the game 4-1 for the Golden Eagles.
There was no quit in the Kings’ game and they fought hard all the way through the third period, creating some beautiful scoring chances that they just couldn’t quite put over the line. With 30 seconds left on the clock, McQuade fired a long shot down the ice and into the empty net to cap the win for the Golden Eagles.
Brantford will go on to challenge the winner of the Stratford-Waterloo series for the Midwestern Conference title. The Kings may have just made the Golden Eagles a tougher team to play against, Haddaway said, making clear the kind of focus needed to win a playoff series.
The coach noted that any disappointment over the way the series ended was overshadowed by pride in what the young team accomplished.
“What a run these guys put this community through.”
When the game ended and the handshakes were over, the community thanked the team for the ride with a standing ovation – a salute the players returned with raised sticks.