(KINGSVILLE, ON) – The Kingsville Kings junior hockey club has just five games left before the playoffs. They find themselves in a situation where they can finish as high as second, or as low as fifth and lose any chance of home rink advantage when it counts.
After a 6-5 home loss to the London Lakers on Sunday, the Kings fell to a record of 25-7-5, good enough for third place in the Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League’s South Division. In their final matches, they will meet both the first place Niagara Whalers and second seated St George Ravens.
“You always want to be the highest seed possible going into the playoffs,” said Kingsville coach Michael Guzzo. “We need to have our best practices and best games right now. [If] we maintain a good set of practices and games heading into the playoffs, and carry that momentum, we will have a great playoff run.”
On Sunday, after Kingsville’s Brendan Mackenzie staked them to an early lead in the opening frame, the Lakers struck back with three goals in short order. In the dying minutes of the 1st, Regan Yew and Matthew Cameron fired a pair of power play markers and Dominik Marks added another, while even, to end the period with a 3-1 lead.
Things started to get worse for the Kings in the second when, less than a minute and a half in, Marks struck again and chased Kingsville starter Chase Stanford from the crease. His replacement, Wes Werner, was put under similar pressure from London and allowed a snipe from Yew just over three minutes later.
Coach Guzzo listed a litany of causes for his team’s early deficit.
“Panic, running around in the D-zone, not playing our positions, not being smart with the puck, line changes,” Guzzo itemized. “There were several mental mistakes in the first couple periods.”
After going up 4-1, the Lakers’ shiny veneer began to crack.
At the midway point of the game, Kingsville’s Dan Leach was left all alone on a clear-cut breakaway with London goalie Naoki Onondera and halved the lead.
The Kings onslaught continued when Matyas Kasek cashed in twice on the Lakers net minder, before the period could end, and slashed the lead to one.
Kingsville’s coach attributed the quick turnaround to his players, “… playing as a team; putting in the work.”
“Those are all things that should have been happening throughout the game and we just let London take control,” Guzzo added.
All through the game, London’s pressure on the Kingsville net never let up. Just over a minute into the final stanza, the South Division leading scorer, Yew, completed his hat-trick to extend the lead with a breakaway snipe.
The game looked like it might be over after Yew’s goal, but moments later, Kingsville’s Thomas McKinnon lobbed the puck on net, in what looked to be a rather harmless shot. Onondera reached for the biscuit with his glove, flubbed it, and suddenly the Kings had renewed momentum.
Things were looking even better only minutes later when Cameron was ejected for checking-from-behind and Kingsville was awarded a five-minute power play. The advantage and momentum, however, were negated by ill-timed penalties by the Kings.
Despite a late push by the hometown crew, Onondera did not falter again.
The Lakers goalie’s 24 saves were enough for the victory, while Sanford and Werner split the loss, combining for 33 stops.
Although there were many points in the game where the tide should have shifted the Kings’ way, with the right bounce and staying on the ball, the failure to capitalize on the third period Cameron major was the straw that broke the camel’s back.
“Anytime you have a five-minute power play, you should be taking control and getting lots of pressure and pucks to the net,” said Guzzo. “When we take minors on a five-minute power play, it takes the flow right out of our game plan and everyone’s mindset diminishes and we can’t have that. We have to be a lot smarter on power plays.”
A lot can happen in five games.
With only a handful of matches to go, the Kings could be in for a lengthy playoff run or, at the other extreme, a more challenging division quarter-final. The could end up with an opponent hungry for an upset, and possibly plenty of spare tee-off time at the golf course this spring.
Kingsville will be on the road tonight at 7:00pm against the Niagara Whalers and tomorrow afternoon versus the St George Ravens at 2:30pm.
The Kings’ next home game is Sunday at 3:00pm as they host the Tillsonburg Hurricanes.