Kings go straight to playing games that count

The Sherwood Park U-18 AAA Kings couldn’t complete a comeback in their regular season home-opener 6-5 loss to the Fort Saskatchewan Rangers. Photo courtesy Target Photography

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They aren’t messing around.

The newly-named Alberta Elite Hockey League’s U-18 AAA Division — formerly the Alberta Midget Hockey League — has gone all-in when it comes to getting their game back on, foregoing exhibition action and going straight to the regular season with a spate of three-game series.

The Sherwood Park U-18 AAA J. Ennis Kings, the flagship squad of the Sherwood Park Kings Athletic Club rep hockey program, has already completed a three-game set against the high-flying Fort Saskatchewan Rangers, and new head coach Travis Clayton said it was a thrill for his players simply to lace up their skates for an actual game again.

“The kids were probably sick of practicing, even if they were glad to be on the ice to begin with, but when you get to play actual games, you can see those smiles grow on their faces,” he said. “It is good to be back doing what they love. Just being able to play hockey again, it was great.”

The Kings started off the season on a high note on Thursday at the Jubilee Recreation Centre in the Fort, coming from behind with an unanswered three-goal burst in the third to earn a 6-4 victory.

“For our first game in eight months, I thought the boys played really well and competed at a very high level,” Clayton said. “They deserved the win and I was proud of our effort, especially being the first game in such a long time. Our leaders stepped up and our newly-named captain had a heck of a game with three goals and an assist. He led the way and I thought everybody else followed him and had great games.”

Also scoring for the Sherwood side were Tyler Kutschinski with a pair of goals and a single strike from Ty Thornton, while Jakob Schmidt made 23 saves to earn the win in net.

The Sherwood Park U-18 AAA Kings seem to have a nose for the net, scoring 15 goals in their first three games. Photo courtesy Target Photography

The Rangers were able to battle back and earn a 5-4 win in their second straight game at home on Saturday, surviving a late charge with Maxwell scoring two more goals in the third to go with another assist earlier in the game.

“We knew our opponents were going to come out with a lot of intensity after losing the first game, they didn’t want to lose two games at home, and they did have that intensity,” Clayton said. “I thought we matched it for maybe the first 10 minutes, but then we fell asleep and they scored three quick ones on us to take a 4-2 lead after the first period. After that, I thought we played well, but we had already dug too deep a hole to get back. The boys didn’t quit and showed a lot of character. We just came up short.”

Also scoring for the Kings were Kutschinski and Thomas Moore.

The Kings got to play in front of the maximum 100 fans for their home-opener on Sunday at the Sherwood Park Arena and it was another close game, with the Rangers once again able to withstand a third-period comeback attempt for a 6-5 victory.

“It was another close one,” Clayton said. “We just gave up way too many odd-man rushes. We were playing too aggressive and getting caught. You can’t give a team like the Rangers odd-man rushes because they will capitalize, and they did. We dug ourselves a hole, but again we didn’t quit and made a game of it. At the end of the day, we need to tighten up defensively and play better away from the puck. Our effort is there and the boys are competing, but we need to work on a few little details. When we clean that area up, we will be a good hockey team.

“They have a high-end skilled hockey team in the Fort and I think we matched their skill level, scoring 15 goals in three games. That’s pretty good at any level. But then again, we also gave up 15 goals, which I wasn’t happy with. As a team, we have to be more committed to  playing defence and we do that, we will be a good hockey team.”

Kutschinski scored his fourth goal of the year for the Kings, with the other goals coming from Tanner Scott, Colby Ball, Evan Waldie and Brayden Bablitz.

“I think we have a really competitive hockey team this season with high-end skill,” Clayton said. “If we put everything together, we will be a very good hockey team. We have a break now where we will really clamp down on our systems and get everybody on the same page.”

The Kings will now take two weeks off as part of the COVID precautions before playing a three-game set against the Lloydminster Bobcats, with home games set for Nov. 5 and 7 at the Arena.