ELMIRA - It was Stratford Cullitons’ third game, plus a practice, in a span of four days. It was Elmira Sugar Kings’ first game in a week, since losing 2-1 on home ice to Listowel Cyclones.
The well-rested team won, right? Wrong!
Here Sunday night, Cullitons built an early first-period lead and never relinquished it, and earned full marks for a 6-2 victory over the Kings in front of approximately 1,000 fans.
“We got off to a good start, and we got a good win down here tonight,” Stratford coach Phil Westman told the Gazette. “I thought some of the calls went our way, too, and we had a little advantage on the powerplay. And Jesse (Raymond) settled in and made some good saves when we needed them.”
The Tribe scored three times on powerplays.
“I wondered if Elmira was a little rusty because they hadn’t played in a full week,” Westman continued. “Sometimes the more we play, the better we are. But Elmira does have a really good hockey team ... we got our goals when we needed them and Jesse made the saves when we needed them.
“Elmira is a tough place to win, and we’ll take the two points.”
With Sunday’s win, Stratford (19-2) maintained its lead atop the Midwestern Conference standings. Cullitons sit two points ahead of Brantford Golden Eagles (17-2-2) and are now three up on Elmira (17-4-1), with a game in hand.
After starting the season 14-0, Sugar Kings have been a rather average team lately. After Sunday’s loss, Elmira is 3-4-1 in its last eight games.
Cambridge Winter Hawks, who played on Tuesday of this week, were a distant fourth after weekend action with a 13-9 record.
McClure leads third-period charge
In front of just over 1,000 spectators Friday night at the Allman Arena, Cullitons fought back from an early 2-0 deficit and beat Cambridge 6-3 with three unanswered third-period goals.
Sniper Brad McClure scored twice in the final 20 minutes, including the game winner--his team-leading third of the season. The Tribe’s leading scorer also added an assist for a three-point outing.
Stratford’s special teams were working as they clicked for three powerplay goals, and McClure’s second of the game was a shorthanded marker with less than eight minutes to play.
“It was a real good exciting game and Cambridge has a good team,” coach Westman said. “As the game went on and after losing Thursday night, I was pretty desperate to win – especially going into Elmira Sunday. I thought if we lost (Friday), we would go 0-for-3.”
Perfect road record ends
The previous night in Brantford, Golden Eagles spoiled Cullitons’ perfect road record – dumping the Tribe 7-1 in front of about 250 fans.
Stratford was the only team in the GOJHL without a road loss until Thursday’s game.
The win was the Eagles second in three games against the Cullitons to date, and it moved Brantford to within two points of Stratford.
Stratford 6 - Elmira 2
At the Dan Snyder Memorial Arena Sunday, forwards Andrew Barton, Ray Huether and Jake Ryan paced the Cullitons’ offence. Centres Barton and Huether both clicked for two goals and an assist, while Ryan was the playmaker with four assists.
“We knew going into the weekend that we were playing three tough teams in four nights,” Westman said. “We just wanted to play good, solid hockey. Really, we didn’t say too much to the guys; we just let them go and play hockey.”
After Barton opened the scoring at 4:02 of the first period, Kings’ Riley Sonnenburg tied it with a shorthanded goal at 7:21.
However, the Tribe answered quickly. Brad McClure, with his 21st of the campaign, made it 2-1 on a powerplay just 58 seconds later, and Huether fired what proved to be the winner just under five minutes after that.
Michael Hasson was the last Elmira shooter to beat Raymond. His powerplay goal at 18:24 left Kings trailing 3-2, but it would be the last puck to get past the Stratford goalie, who blanked the home team over the final 41-plus minutes.
Barton restored a two-goal advantage for Stratford just 39 seconds into the middle frame. Huether added his second of the game, on a powerplay, later in the period. The slick centre now has 13 goals in 16 games since returning to the Cullitons from the OHL.
Pat Looby completed the scoring, also on a powerplay, midway through the third. Lobby left the game just a couple of minutes later after separating his shoulder in a fight.
Although the teams combined for 119 minutes in penalties, Westman reported that “it wasn’t that rough of a game. I think it was just the way the two referees called the game.”
The Tribe is now 2-0 against Elmira, and Raymond (11-2) has won both games. He currently sits with the third-best goals-against average (2.29) in the province.
Stratford 6 - Cambridge 3
At the Allman Friday night, Brad McClure hit the 20-goal plateau as he sparked Cullitons’ comeback with a pair of third-period tallies.
The third-year winger fired what proved to be the winner at 3:39. After a Jake Ryan powerplay goal at 7:19, McClure clinched it with his shorthanded goal at 12:28.
The goaltending of Taylor Dupuis and killing off a couple of 5-on-3 Cambridge powerplays were also keys to the win, coach Westman noted.
“We got some momentum after those kills and got our game going,” he said. “Brad McClure scored a couple of timely goals, especially the shorthanded one, because we had just killed off a 5-on-3 and Cambridge still held the man advantage.”
Winter Hawks led 2-0 early in the second period, but goals by Brock Reynolds and defenceman Jordan Currie (powerplay) pulled the Tribe even before the midway mark of the frame.
Cambridge’s Trevor Hache and Stratford’s Ryan Watson (his 10th) traded powerplay goals before the end of the period – leaving the teams deadlocked at 3-3.
The 17-year-old Dupuis, meanwhile, made 27 saves for his eighth straight victory. Overall, Cullitons out-shot the Hawks 48-30, including 22-12 in the second period.
Defenceman Tyler Marchand, Ray Huether and Steve Dol all chipped in two assists.
Cullitons’ win was their fourth in a row over Cambridge. It also improved their home-ice record to 11-1.
Brantford 7 - Stratford 1
At the Civic Centre Thursday night, three first-period goals were all the offence Golden Eagles needed on this night to handily defeat the Cullitons for the second time this season.
Steve Dol (his 12th) finally got the Tribe on the scoresheet at 11:15 of the second period, but Matt Quilty’s restored a three-goal Brantford lead 28 seconds later. Mitch Brown made it 5-1 just 40 seconds after that.
Trent Hawke and Tyler Norrie (powerplay) tacked on third-period goals. Dave Lazurus, Nate Mitton and Quilty scored for Eagles in the opening 20 minutes.
“We didn’t have a good game,” coach Westman said. “Maybe I didn’t have them mentally prepared enough.
“But we hit five posts in the first period and a half. Brantford capitalized on their chances and we didn’t capitalize on ours. It had the makings of a 9-9 game, but their goalie made the saves. Even at 3-0, I thought we still had a chance to come back, but they won the battles.”
Overall, Brantford out-shot Stratford 40-30. Eagles’ goalie Bryce O’Hagan was named first star. Jesse Raymond went the distance for the Cullitons.
There were only three minor penalties whistled in the contest – and all went to the Tribe.
The win improved Brantford’s home record to 7-1, with their only loss coming against Stratford (3-2) back on Oct. 15.
This week: Cullitons have a rare Friday night off this week. Their only weekend game is a GOJHL inter-locking tilt Saturday in Forest against Lambton Shores Predators, of the Western Conference, at 7:30 p.m.
Predators (9-14), under new coach Mark Davis, have had an up-and-down season to date.
They lost nine in a row in one stretch, and then turned around and won five of six.