The battle for provincial Junior B supremacy has been set.  The Sutherland Cup, emblematic of the top Junior B team in Ontario since 1934 when the St. Michael’s Buzzers defeated the Preston Riverside, has commenced.

The Western Conference London Nationals have had some well-deserved rest after eliminating the Leamington Flyers in 5 games.

In the Golden Horseshoe Conference the three-time Sutherland Cup defending champion Caledonia Pro-Fit Corvairs needed six games to defeat the St. Catharines Falcons.  The Corvairs and the Falcons have met the last four years in the Conference finals.  Last year Caledonia became the first franchise to ever win the Sutherland Cup in three consecutive years.  They will now have a chance to make it four in a row.

In the Midwestern Conference the second seeded Elmira Sugar Kings jumped out to a 2 games to 0 lead over the front-running Listowel Cyclones only to see the Cyclones roar back with four straight wins to take the series 4-2.  There was a silver lining however for the Sugar Kings as Elmira earned the wild card by having the best winning percentage among the three conference losing finalists.

The best-of-seven Sutherland Cup semi-finals will see the second seeded Caledonia Corvairs matched up with the wild card entry, the Elmira Sugar Kings.  In the other series, the top-seeded Listowel Cyclones and the third-seeded London Nationals will lock horns.

All three conference champions, Listowel, Caledonia and London finished with identical 8-2 records over the last two playoff rounds.  Goal differential was then the determining factor for seeding. Even though Listowel was the top seed, they did not draw the wild card entry Elmira in the semi-finals as both teams are from the same Conference.  The opening round did not factor into the wild card seeding as Caledonia had a bye in the first round due to the folding of the Thorold Blackhawks late in the season.

The two teams to emerge victorious from the semi-finals will play a best-of-seven final series for the Sutherland Cup.

The Caledonia franchise has won the cup 4 times, once as the Brantford Eagles in 2009.  The club was moved to Caledonia in 2012 where they have captured hockey’s highest Junior B honours the past three seasons.

Elmira was Sutherland Cup winners in 1996, 2001 and 2011 while London earned their lone cup win in 2013.  Listowel are still looking for their first Sutherland Cup win.  The team was founded in 1972 as a Junior C team and moved up to Junior B in 1979.  Their only Sutherland Cup appearance came in 2005.  They were knocked out of the round robin stage by the Chatham Maroons and eventual cup champion Thorold Blackhawks.

The semi-finals were underway on Thursday, April 13 at the Haldimand Centre in Caledonia.  The wild card Elmira Sugar Kings surprised the three-time defending champion Pro-Fit Corvairs by stealing home ice advantage with a come-from-behind 2-1 victory.

The two clubs skated through a scoreless, tight checking opening period that featured plenty of blocked shots and some fine goaltending by Jonathan Reinhart in the Sugar Kings’ goal and Daniel Chenard for the Corvairs.  First period shots favoured Elmira 9-8.

The Corvairs opened the scoring in the middle frame at 5:07 when Jamey Lauzon (7) carried the puck behind the Sugar King net before swooping out front and beating Reinhart with a shot to the far side.  Reinhart was busy in the period as the Corvairs doubled up the Sugar Kings 12-6 in shots on goal.  Lauzon is tied for the team lead in both goal scoring and points.  Former Strathroy Rocket Cole Mayo assisted on Lauzon’s goal.  Mayo, along with another former Rocket, Eddie Schulz both came to Caledonia after being released by their OHL clubs.

Elmira’s comeback started early in the third period when Klayton Hoelscher (5) buried a rebound off of an Ethan Skinner dash down the right wing on a powerplay opportunity just 17 periods into the period.

The game winner was scored by Jacob Black (5) after Chenard gave up a rebound on Black’s backhand shot at 14:05.  Black made no mistake on his second chance.

Caledonia pulled Chenard for an extra attacker but Elmira defended valiantly not allowing the Corvairs a shot on goal.  Third period shots were 11-9 for Caledonia and 31-24 for the Corvairs over three periods.  Both clubs had three powerplay opportunities.

Reinhart (11-6) earned the win.  The Sugar Kings netminder has played every minute for Elmira thus far in the playoffs.  Chenard (2-1) was pegged for the loss in just his third playoff appearance.  Bradley Van Schubert (6-2) has played the majority of the games for Caledonia in the playoffs.

The match was played in front of a rather sparse gathering of 448 fans.

Listowel and London will begin their semi-final series on Friday, April 14 at the Listowel Memorial Arena.  The series may be decided by special teams.  London boasts the number one powerplay while Listowel’s powerplay is ranked third.

David Honsberger

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