The London Nationals and Elmira Sugar Kings will compete in the 2016-17 Sutherland Cup finals, emblematic of Ontario Junior B supremacy since 1934.  The three-time defending champion Caledonia Pro-Fit Corvairs had their hopes dashed for a fourth consecutive cup win by a 3-2 loss to the wild card entry, the Elmira Sugar Kings, on Sunday, April 23 at the Dan Snyder Memorial Arena in Elmira.  The Sugar King win marks the third time in four years that the wild card entry has advanced to the provincial championship finals.

The London Nationals advanced to the Sutherland Cup finals with a 3-2 overtime victory in Listowel on Friday, April 21 in front of 659 fans.  Despite the Western Conference champion Nationals disposing of the Midwestern Conference champion Cyclones in just 5 games, the series was a lot closer than the 4-1 game advantage would imply.  It was an outstanding goaltending battle between London’s Cameron Zanussi (16-4, 2.28 GAA, 92.2 S%) and Listowel’s Brock Baier (13-6, 1.67 GAA, 94.3 s%) and a textbook-like demonstration of team defensive play, which was a huge credit to the players and coaching staff from both squads.

Game five was very typical of the entire series.  The two clubs fought through 46 minutes and 12 seconds of scoreless hockey, looking for the first goal which could be the deciding factor in the game, and possibly the series.

Oddly, it was London who bent first when Listowel’s Cullen Mercer (13) gave the Cyclones the 1-0 lead at 6:13 of the third period when his no-look shot from the sideboards found a crack between Zanussi’s skate and the post.

Undeterred, London quickly erased the chaos of the jubilant Listowel Memorial Arena when Brendon Glover (11) tied the game just 44 seconds later finishing off a beautiful passing play with Brenden Trottier and Quinn Lenihan.  The Glover-Trottier magic was prophetic foreshadowing of dramatic events that would unfold at the game’s exciting conclusion.

When London’s Michael Andlauer took a double minor spearing penalty at 9:20, the Cyclones had a tremendous opportunity to retake the lead on the 4-minute powerplay, however the National penalty killers and Zanussi stood their ground denying the Listowel powerplay.  Two determining factors for the Cyclone’s demise was the inability of Listowel’s powerplay though out the entire series as well as the lack of scoring from Holden Lansink.  Listowel failed to score on the powerplay in all five games and Lansink, who leads the GOJHL in playoff scoring, failed to find the back of the net.  Lansink earned a single assist in games four and five.

When Listowel’s Brenden Clayton went off for hooking at 17:49 the Nationals went to work to try to rediscover their scoring touch on the powerplay.  London and Listowel, who entered the series with the first and third best powerplay in the playoffs, had yet to register a powerplay goal.

With 1:38 remaining in regulation time the Nationals thought they had scored the series winning goal when a pinching Lenihan converted a goal mouth pass from Ethan Nother.  The first and only powerplay goal of the series put the Nationals up 2-1.

Baier was pulled for an extra attacker and Listowel buzzed around the National goal looking for the equalizer.  The Lenihan goal may have stood up as the series winning goal if teammate Carson Brookshaw had stepped over centre ice prior to trying to score on the empty net.  Brookshaw did not and the play was whistled down for icing.  Chayse Herrfort (9) tied the game with a screened shot from the top of the faceoff circle with 29 seconds remaining in regulation time.

Once again the two teams battled through nearly a period of nail-biting, end-to-end action with Zanussi and Baier being called upon to make many outstanding saves.  The end came at 15:31 when three-year veteran defenseman Keaton Willis fanned on a pass at the side of the Cyclone net.  Trottier gobbled up the loose puck and fed a wide open Glover (12) in the slot, whose quick shot picked the corner past Baier.  There were 2 overtime games in the series with London winning both of them.  Game one was a 4-3 overtime victory for the Nationals.  Glover scored the overtime winner for the Nationals in both games.

Listowel should be back next season with an even stronger club as they lose just one player to age, defenseman Riley Robertson.

Final shots favoured London 41-39.  Listowel held a 9-8 advantage in the opening period, while the two clubs were tied for shots in the second and third periods.  London went 1 for 5 with the man advantage while Listowel was 0 for 4.  Over the series the Nationals were 1 for 16 while the Cyclones were 0 for 15.

The same evening the Golden Horseshoe champion Caledonia Corvairs were also facing elimination.  They trailed the wild card entry, the Elmira Sugar Kings 3-1 in their best-of-seven semi-final series.  Backed by the shutout goaltending of Daniel Chenard (4-3, 1.58 GAA, 94.1 S%) and a pair of powerplay goals by Adam Craievich (6) and Quentin Maksimovich (5), the Corvairs downed the Sugar Kings and cut Elmira’s series lead to 3-2.

Craievich’s wrist shot at 4:48 of the opening period from near the right side hash marks beat Elmira keeper Jonathan Reinhart (13-8, 2.48 GAA, 93.0 S%) to put the Corvairs up 1-0.  The goal would stand up to be the game winner.

From behind the goal line Maksimovich tapped in a puck for the vital insurance marker at 12:51 of the second period.

The Corvairs came out with a purpose in the first period outshooting the Sugar Kings 14-5.  They also held a 13-8 advantage in the second period.  Elmira tried to stage a third period comeback outshooting Caledonia 11-9 but was unable to solve Chenard.  Final shots were Caledonia 36, Elmira 24.

Discipline and execution were the difference in the game.  Caledonia connected on 2 of 6 chances while Elmira was unsuccessful in just 3 opportunities.  The game was played in Caledonia in front of 518 spectators.  The two teams swung into Elmira for game six on a Sunday matinee on April 23.

In game six the Sugar Kings overcame a 2-0 Corvairs lead and emerged with a dramatic come-from-behind 3-2 win to take the semi-final series in 6 games in front of 955 fans.

Brandon Lindberg (5) gave Caledonia a first period lead at 7:05 with an accurate shot from the high slot on the powerplay.  The Corvairs, who were playing for their playoff lives, came out with a strong opening period, outshooting Elmira 16-12.

Maksimovich (6) increased the Caledonia lead to 2-0 just 53 seconds into the second period when he followed up a 2-on-2 rush and buried the puck behind Reinhart from the top of the crease.

Trailing 2-0 the Sugar Kings responded with 3 second period goals to erase the Corvairs lead, including a pair of goals 2:23 apart the tie the match, before the series winning goal was scored with 50 seconds remaining in the second period.  The two clubs skated through a hectic scoreless third period in which the Sugar Kings were outshot 12-3.  Reinhart was outstanding in goal to preserve the series win and the finals berth.

Mitch Hoelscher (6) cut the Corvairs lead to 2-1 at 12:31.  Reinhart came up strong denying Caledonia on a 4-on-1 rush.  The play swung back up the ice on a 2-on-1 Sugar King rush.  Chenard stoned Ethan Skinner with a big stop but Hoelscher was on the doorstep to put away the rebound.

At 14:54 Jacob Black (6) finished off a perfectly executed 3-on-2 rush to tie the game at 2-2.

The series winning goal came at 19:10 with Corvairs Zachary Core off serving a high sticking penalty.  Despite all the planning and preparation that two teams can do for a series, sometimes the difference maker is one exceptional player making one exceptional play.  Skinner was that player.  He tallied his 11th goal of the post-season on a solo rush, stick-handing around three Caledonia players and beating Chenard with a deft move.  Second period shots were 18-16 for Elmira.

Final shots favoured Caledonia 44-33.  The Sugar Kings were 1 for 4 with the man advantage while the Corvairs went 1 for 3.

London will enjoy home ice advantage in the final series over Elmira.  The series will begin on Wednesday, April 26 at the Western Fair.

David Honsberger

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