The Elmira Sugar Kings let a two-goal lead slip away in their 3-2 shootout loss to the Brantford Golden Eagles last Sunday night.
Brantford scored twice in a seven-minute span in the middle of the third period to tie the game, and the Golden Eagles Trent Hawke scored the only goal in the shootout to seal the win for the visitors.
It was the first game in a week for the Kings, following a 6-2 win over Owen Sound on Oct. 23, and the rust was apparent, said the head coach.
“(We had) a couple of days off and didn’t play well in the first, we played real well in the second, and the third period I thought was pretty even,” said Dean DeSilva after the game.
“I still think we’re struggling to find that full 60-minute (effort).”
The Kings struggled to find any consistency through the first 15 minutes of the first period, and didn’t mount much offence until the final five minutes of the period when they finally seemed to get their legs.
The best chance of the period for the Kings came with 1:15 left on the clock when Riley Sonnenburg and Brett Priestap broke in on a two-on-one but Priestap was denied by the Golden Hawks goaltender Bryce O’Hagan.
Brantford held a 14-10 edge in shots after the first.
The Kings carried their momentum through to the second period and Elmira’s Will Cook finally broke through at the 15:02 mark with a quick wrist shot from near the top of the faceoff circle past the glove of O’Hagan. Scott Nagy and Michael Hasson drew the assists on the goal.
Elmira extended their lead to 2-0 after some hard work in the Brantford zone just over two minutes later. The defensive pairing of Mac Clutsam and Brodie Whitehead did a good job of holding the puck in the Golden Eagles zone before Cass Frey tipped home his 3rd of the year at 17:09 by parking himself in front of the net. Lukas Baleshta and Whitehead picked up the assists.
The coach had tremendous praise for the second-year grinder.
“Cass Frey had probably his best game up front for us. He did a lot of good things, and was rewarded with a goal,” said DeSilva.
The Kings were a confident crew at the end of 40 minutes and held a decisive edge in shots in the second, 25-8. In the third, however, that confidence would quickly dissolve as the team coughed up a two-goal lead for the second time in four games.
With Priestap in the box for hooking, Brantford’s Mike Riley scored an unassisted powerplay goal at 4:49 to give his team renewed hope. Riley raced down the ice to create a 2-on-1 in the Elmira zone before firing a wrist shot into the top corner off the crossbar and in past Horrigan’s glove.
Brantford completed the comeback at 11:45 when the Kings surrendered an uncharacteristic shorthanded goal to Mike Rebry. After a turnover near the Brantford blueline by Nagy, Dillan Walker chipped the puck up to Rebry who had gotten in behind the Kings defence for a clear breakaway, and he made no mistake, knotting the game up at 2-2.
“I think some of our veteran forwards made a mistake on their shorthanded goal, we talked about it and they went out and made the mistake we had talked about,” said DeSilva.
Overtime solved nothing and all three Kings shooters – Sonnenburg, Hasson, and Andrew Smith – were all stopped by O’Hagan. Horrigan surrendered the winning goal on somewhat of a weak shot in the shootout, but the coach said his goalie gave them a chance to win, especially early in the first period.
“He made those big saves when we needed them and that’s common, we have some young defenceman back there, and we needed that.”
The loss lowered the Kings’ record to 16-2-1, but the team still has a three-point cushion over Stratford for first in the division.
“They came out flying and we just didn’t have the competition level in the third and we couldn’t get anything going,” said Smith, who suffered a scary-looking injury about midway through the second after taking a vicious slash over his right knee from Brantford’s Andrew Wilson.
Smith missed his next few shifts, but returned to the game and confirmed he was a little sore, but would be fine. Wilson received a 5-minute major and a game misconduct on the play.
The Kings look to prevent a long losing streak tonight (Saturday) in Cambridge at 7 p.m. before returning home to take on Listowel at 2 p.m. Sunday.
“Overall you’re never happy with a loss, but if someone had told us in September that at the end of October we’d be 16-3, we would have taken it,” said DeSilva.