Pat Payton, Stratford Gazette sports editor
ELMIRA - Stratford Cullitons picked up just two of a possible six points this past weekend. But the news isn’t all bad.
Coach Phil Westman was impressed with the way Cullitons competed in their three games on back-to-back days. He described it as a “character weekend” by his club.
“We only got the two points, but we could have had six,” Westman said after Stratford lost 5-4 in a shootout to the Sugar Kings here Sunday night in front of about 650 fans. “We played really well; it was a good effort. Credit to our guys; it was our third game in three nights and we lose in a shootout in Elmira where it’s always tough to win.
“You don’t have a whole lot to show for it from the weekend, but it really was a good character builder. Our team competed really hard; there were three fights in the game and the guys were sticking up for each other. We’re becoming a team and sometimes that’s difficult to recognize when you’re losing.
“We’re in seventh place today, but I don’t know if I’d want to be the first or second-place team starting playoffs against us tomorrow. Our game is coming along . . . we’re progressing, not declining, that’s for sure,” Westman added.
Another shootout loss kicks off weekend Cullitons kicked off their three games in 48 hours with a shootout loss, 6-5, to Listowel Cyclones Friday night at the Allman Arena. Teams get one point for an overtime or shootout loss.
In between the Elmira and Listowel games, Stratford dropped a 6-4 decision (in regulation time) to the Dutchmen Saturday afternoon in Kitchener. Sunday’s defeat extended Cullitons’ losing streak to four games. They haven’t won in regulation time since Oct. 19 when they defeated Caledonia Corvairs 4-2 on home ice.
After weekend action, the Midwestern Conference remain tight as only three points separate five teams in the middle of the pack. Stratford (6-7-3) is just two points behind Listowel (8-7-1), and trail Elmira (9-6-0), Waterloo Siskins (9-8-0) and Kitchener (8-6-2) by only three.
Elmira 5 - Stratford 4 (Shootout)
On Sunday in Elmira, Cullitons wasted a fine four-goal performance by veteran forward Jake Ryan. The 19-year-old from New Liskeard, who fired a pair of powerplay goals and a shorthanded marker, gave Stratford leads of 1-0, 3-1 and 4-3. Sugar Kings forced a scoreless overtime and the shootout with the tying goal with less than three minutes left in the third period.
A Cullitons powerplay carried over into OT and they had eight shots in the five-minute extra session, but couldn’t score.
“We had some good opportunities,” coach Westman reported. “For most of the night, we were in pretty good control of that hockey game. Our guys showed a ton of character the way they competed.”
Elmira won the shootout, 2-0, on goals by Brady Campbell and Jake Weidner. Ryan and Jared Culliton both missed for Stratford. In regulation time, Mitch Wright had two goals for the Kings, including the equalizer at 17:02 of the third. Campbell and Weidner had the others. Cullitons’ goalie Nick Caldwell (4-3-2) took the loss for the second straight game.
The long-time rivals combined for 85 penalty minutes, and six of the goals came on special teams. Elmira has won four of its last five games.
Kitchener 6 - Stratford 4
On the big Kinsmen Arena ice Saturday, Cullitons held 2-1, 3-2 and 4-3 leads, but the home-town Dutchmen rallied for the win with three goals in final eight minutes. The last Kitchener goal was into an empty Stratford net with 43 seconds remaining. The teams were tied 2-2 after the first period and 3-3 after 40 minutes.
Shane O’Brien’s second of the game gave Cullitons a 4-3 lead with less than 10 minutes to play. Ryan Watson and Jake Ryan (powerplay) had the other goals for the visitors. Keli Grant had two goals for the Dutchmen, while the singles went to Ty Learn, Philip Moser, Dylan Bursey and Brett Clampitt.
“You go on that big Olympic-size rink, and it’s a surface that our team should excel on,” Westman said. “But we made a few mistakes positional-wise that we typically wouldn’t make at the Allman Arena.
“But we were right there the whole game; we played a good hockey game.”
Listowel 6 - Stratford 5 (Shootout)
It was not the start Cullitons wanted to their three games in three days weekend. But an exciting three-goal rally in the third period earned Stratford a single point against Perth County rival Listowel in front of an estimated 1,500 spectators Friday night at the Allman.
Cullitons trailed 2-1 after the first period, 4-2 after two periods, and 5-2 with just under 12 minutes remaining in the third. However, goals by Trevor MacDonald, Jordan Currie and Ryker Killins – in a span of just 4:28 – tied the score 5-5, with still over five minutes to play. It had the excited Allman faithful hoping for a regulation-time comeback victory.
After a scoreless five-minute overtime period, Cyclones out-scored the Cullitons 2-1 in the shootout. Caleb Cameron and Scott Pawson sandwiched goals around one by Stratford’s Jared Culliton. In regulation, Cameron scored twice for Listowel with the singles to Ben Shelley, Patrick Bell and Colten Pickett. Currie and Jonathan Langford scored the first two Stratford goals.
Overall, Cullitons out-shot the Cycs 52-32. Goalie Drew Reinhardt played well for Cyclones, kicking out 47 shots on the night. Listowel moved one point ahead of Stratford with the road win.
“There were some positives that we battled back and showed a little character to salvage a point,” Cullitons’ assistant Tim Schultz said. “We said we wanted to get four out of six points this weekend, so we’ve got three more to get.”
Upcoming: Cullitons host Kitchener this Friday at 7:30 p.m. On Saturday, Stratford travels to Caledonia to meet the Corvairs at 8 p.m.