Everyone knew the first loss of the season would eventually come, but it still stings all the same.
The Elmira Sugar Kings saw their record-setting 14-game winning streak end on Sunday evening in a 5-3 loss to the Cambridge Winter Hawks in front of about 670 spectators at the Dan Snyder Arena.
The Winter Hawks potted three unanswered goals in the first period, which proved too much for the Kings to overcome.
“Our best players were not our best players.
Hands down,” said Kings head coach Dean DeSilva after the game.
“Full credit to Cambridge, they came in and played a great game. Their penalty killers blocked a lot of shots, their goaltender made the big save when he needed to, and we didn’t.”
For the Hawks, the opportunity to hand the Sugar Kings their first loss of the season was about as sweet as it comes.
“Of course, there is no question when you have an opportunity to end a team’s undefeated start, you want to be the first team to do it and there is a little extra motivation in that,” said Cambridge head coach Peter Crosby, whose team ran its own winning streak to three games on Sunday.
“(Every game) we look for certain areas that we feel we can expose on the other team, and Elmira is no different.”
It was the Kings’ undisciplined play that Cambridge exposed on Sunday, as Elmira accumulated 38 minutes of penalties on 12 infractions and Cambridge made them pay, going 4-for-12 with the extra man.
Even more disconcerting for the Kings’ management were the types of penalties their players were charged with, many of which were lazy or the result of unchecked emotions.
Forward Scott Nagy received a 10-minute misconduct for head-checking at 12:34 of the first and newcomer Michael Hasson was booked for unsportsmanlike conduct for arguing the call against Nagy.
The Winter Hawks’ Josh Timpano scored on that 5-on-3 powerplay at 13:08 on a screened wrist shot from the slot to give Cambridge a 1-0 lead.
“Tonight was a lesson in humility. Referees aren’t going to listen to kids squawk and they’re not going to put up with it. They’ve got to learn from it,” said DeSilva.
The real backbreaker came just over 90 seconds later when Elmira’s normally sure-handed goaltender Nick Horrigan – fresh off his GOJHL player of the month award in September – let in a 150-foot shot from Scott Mitchell at the opposite end of the rink to put his team down 2-0.
All Horrigan could do was hang in head in confusion while his defence fished the puck from the back of the net.
“Yeah, I don’t know what happened,” Horrigan said after the game. “I’d love to give you a great answer, but I don’t know. I screwed up.”
Instead of rallying around their goaltender, however, the Kings continued their undisciplined play. With Brodie Whitehead already in the box for high sticking, Lukas Baleshta took a holding penalty with just 24 seconds left on the clock in the first period.
Timpano would score his second of the period just nine seconds later on a whist shot at a tough angle over Horrigan’s glove to put his team up 3-0.
In the second period, Baleshta atoned for his earlier penalty when he fired his own wrist shot top corner on goaltender Lucas Michalski at 6:35 to put the Kings on the board 3-1 from Brennon Pearce and Will Cook, but he took a roughing penalty just over two minutes later and Cambridge tallied another powerplay goal at 9:31 to take a 4-1 lead.
That goal chased Horrigan from the net as DeSilva opted to pull his starter and go with Nick Coone the rest of the way.
The move seemed to give a boost to the Kings as they carried much of the play for the rest of the period. Brett Priestap fired home his 7th goal of the year at 17:24 of the second to make it 4-2, but that was about as close as the Kings would come, and penalties continued to be a factor in the third.
Captain Colton Wolfe-Sabo was handed a game misconduct for checking from behind at 5:14, and Baleshta picked up an abuse of official penalty and 10-minute misconduct at 9:25 after Cambridge scored to make it 5-2.
Will Cook brought the Kings to within two at 15:09 with his 9th goal of the season, but it wasn’t enough and the team saw their 14-game streak finally come to an end.
“We’re down a little bit but we knew we weren’t going to go 51-0 and that a loss was going to come at some time,” said Priestap after the game. “We just didn’t work hard enough.”
Although this is only loss number one on the season for the Kings, DeSilva said some of his players began to develop some bad tendencies over the course of the streak, and that he was only happy with the team’s full 60-minute effort on one occasion.
“It was very hard to keep them grounded,” said the coach of his player’s during the streak.
“They got away with cheating, they got away with not sticking to the system, and when that happens normally you’re going to lose, but we got lucky and won some games and got some bounces.
“We got exactly what we deserved tonight.”
Despite the coaches and players displeasure with the loss, their 14-game winning streak has put them in some pretty exclusive company.
The team was just three wins short of matching the all-time consecutive wins record set by the Waterloo Siskins from Nov. 30, 2009 to Jan. 15, 2010, and the Kings broke their own team record for consecutive wins, which was 11 set in back in 1997-98.
They also established a new Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League record for consecutive wins to start a season.
The bad news, however, is that the Kings’ 28 points didn’t put much distance between themselves and the second-place Stratford Cullitons (11-1-0 for 22 points as of Thursday night).
This weekend will present a good test for the Kings, as they play three games in three nights.
After facing the Cullitons in Stratford Friday, they head to Guelph for a 7:30 p.m. match against the Hurricanes tonight (Saturday), and then return home Sunday to take on the Owen Sound Greys at 7 p.m.