The Wheatland Kings closed off 2021 with a win, grounding the High River Flyers with a 5-3 victory on Dec. 19.
The Kings got off to a slow start to the, but kept the Flyers on their guard in the first period, opening with an offhand goal at the end of the period.
Kings assistant coach, Ryan Leeper, said his team gained more momentum through the second period.
“We got our feet moving a little bit more going into the second period and we got some luck with some power plays,” he explained. “We had guys going to the front of the net getting sticks on pucks, we were flying tonight. We had four power play goals and one shorthanded goal, so the team was doing their jobs tonight.”
He added the Kings are particularly a strong team for punishing mistakes and penalties from their opponents and capitalizing on power plays.
Early into the second period, a fight on the ice ended in a five-minute penalty for the Flyers, which opened the way for two goals and a strong lead for the home team.
“After that, the boys were flying and really used the momentum from that to push for the win,” said Leeper.
The Kings followed up with another two goals through the third period, establishing a commanding 5-2 lead over the flyers.
With two minutes remaining in the third period and trailing 5-3, the Flyers pulled their goaltender in a last-ditch effort to either push the game to overtime.
Leeper said he was absolutely not worried about the threat of a sixth aggressor with so little time left before the buzzer.
Coming into 2022, he added the Kings still have a few things to work on if they want to challenge the stronger teams in the league and secure a place in the Top 3 by the end of the season.
“Clearing guys out in front of the net, we need to be more focused in our own end and we need to be a little more aggressive in front of their net,” said Leeper. “I feel like if we can really take advantage of some of these weaker teams and upset some of these top teams in the league, that we can really make a strong push to be either in second, third or potentially even first place by the end of the (season)”
Against the Flyers in particular, the aim of the game is to maintain the aggression and pressure them into suffering penalties.
“They’re one of the smaller teams in the league, so I find if we can really lay the body on them, we can really take advantage of them,” he said. “We can’t let them get in our heads. We’ve got to back off a little bit so that we don’t get in penalty trouble, but we’ll let them do their thing, get their penalties and we’ll take advantage of it.”
The Kings opened the weekend with an identical 5-3 win in High River on Dec. 17, before falling 5-3 to the Red Deer Vipers the following day in Red Deer.
The next game for the Kings will be on Jan. 7, 2022 in the Murray & Piper Arena against the Okotoks Bisons. Their next home game in Strathmore will be on Jan. 15 against the Coaldale Copperheads.
John Watson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times