The Elmira Sugar Kings returned to the top of the conference standings with wins over the teams that had edged them out of the spot a week earlier.
With wins last Friday in Stratford (4-3) and at home Saturday against Waterloo (4-2), the Kings brought their record to 15-4, the 30 points putting them two up on both the Warriors (14-4) and the Siskins (13-4-2).
Special teams were a factor early on as the Kings travelled to Stratford November 19. The Warriors scored the only goal of the first period on a power play, with Elmira’s Nathaniel Mott getting the equalizer with the man-advantage 3:13 into the second frame. Assists went to Jaxson Murray and Brody Leblanc, with the latter putting the Kings ahead for good with an unassisted shorthanded goal at 12:08. Jack O’Donnell’s goal exactly four minutes later, assisted by Owen Duiker, made it 3-1 after 40 minutes.
Midway through the third period, it was 4-1 courtesy of a goal from Duiker (Adam Grein), with two quick ones by the Warriors with about five minutes left to play making it close.
Final shots were 32-30 in Stratford’s favour, with Elmira netminder Dan Botelho stopping 29 to post the win. The Kings’ power play was 1-5, while Stratford went 1-6.
“They got a couple of late ones there to make it interesting, but we’ll take the two points,” said head coach Rob Collins of Friday night’s game.
“I thought we had control that for the most part, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous until probably the last minute and a half. It got close but I thought the guys showed up prepared and focused, and took care of business the right way.”
The Kings were back in action the following night, welcoming the KW Siskins to the WMC.
The visitors scored the first and last goals of the game, bookending the four put up by the home team, which outshot the Siskins 35-30.
Down 1-0 at the one-minute mark, the Kings slowly took back control. Leblanc’s 15th of the season, a shorthanded effort assisted by Kurtis Goodwin at 18:11, made it 1-1 heading into the first intermission. Leblanc then scored the only goal of the middle frame, assisted by Goodwin and Mott. He completed the natural hat trick at 4:06 of the third period, this time assisted by Lucas Carson and O’Donnell.
A minute and a half later, it was 4-1 Kings on a goal by Anthony Pede (Grein, Goodwin), with the Siskins getting one back at 12:44. That’s how it would stand at the final buzzer.
Botelho stopped 28 of 30 on route to the win. The Kings were 0-4 on the power play, while the Siskins were 1-4.
“Even more than Friday, we had a more disciplined effort on Sunday. After they (Siskins) scored that first one in the first minute, I thought that the guys kind of said ‘OK, time to go,’ and they did it the right way. I don’t want to say takeover because I don’t want to take anything away from Waterloo because they’re a good team too, but I thought we carried the play,” said Collins.
Brody Leblanc was obviously phenomenal – three goals. When you’ve got a guy doing that for you on a particular night, it certainly gives you a good chance to win,” he added, noting Leblanc’s weekend included two more shorthanded goals.
“He’s proven to be dangerous in every facet of the game – I’m glad he’s on our team.”
The Kings have a quiet weekend ahead with just one game on tap – they welcome the Brantford Bandits (2-17-1) to the WMC on Sunday evening. The puck drops at 7 p.m.
That match will be a chance for some payback to the Midwestern Conference’s last-place team.
“We’re looking forward to getting our hands on them. Last time we played them they beat us at home. I hope the guys can find a way to get excited for that one because one you want to take care of home ice and make it a difficult place to play for other teams. You have an opportunity to for redemption and take advantage of it,” said Collins.