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Ending seasons on a festive note

It proved challenging, but the coaching staffs of the Elmira Sugar Kings and the Wellesley Applejacks were able to come up with a list of winners for their respective awards banquets last weekend.

“It makes for difficult choices because you certainly want to recognize significant performances or achievements but you don’t want to leave anybody out. We have a tough time with it because in hockey we’re not supposed to recognize the individual, it’s such a team game that that contributes to making it hard to pick anybody,” said Elmira head coach Geoff Haddaway.

Front row: Elmira Sugar Kings captain Patrick Shantz (Don Duke Memorial Trophy for sportsmanship and leadership; coaches’ Cup for perseverance and dedication to hockey) and Brent Freeman (Elmira Insurance Agencies Trophy for top scorer, and Twin City Trophies – regular season MVP.) Back row: Kyle McNeil (Sugar Kings Alumni Award for playoff MVP), Jeff Zippel (Award of Excellence – best combines academics and hockey), Trent Brown (James Austin Memorial Trophy for top defenceman), Tyler Kuntz (Norm Hipel Memorial Trophy for outstanding defensive forward), Josh Ranalli (Elmira Sports Trophy for rookie of the year); Elmira Sugar Kings president Jeff Seddon, and Jarred Parent (Dave Uberig Memorial Trophy for top local minor hockey grad).
Front row: Elmira Sugar Kings captain Patrick Shantz (Don Duke Memorial Trophy for sportsmanship and leadership; coaches’ Cup for perseverance and dedication to hockey) and Brent Freeman (Elmira Insurance Agencies Trophy for top scorer, and Twin City Trophies – regular season MVP.) Back row: Kyle McNeil (Sugar Kings Alumni Award for playoff MVP), Jeff Zippel (Award of Excellence – best combines academics and hockey), Trent Brown (James Austin Memorial Trophy for top defenceman), Tyler Kuntz (Norm Hipel Memorial Trophy for outstanding defensive forward), Josh Ranalli (Elmira Sports Trophy for rookie of the year); Elmira Sugar Kings president Jeff Seddon, and Jarred Parent (Dave Uberig Memorial Trophy for top local minor hockey grad).

“You won’t find a bad kid on the Elmira Sugar Kings.”

While neither team ended the season the way it wanted to, there was more than enough camaraderie and positive vibrations throughout the organizations – including players, coaches, staff, parents billets, and fans – to warrant one final celebration.

“It means a lot to me: we all walked out that afternoon [with] a good feeling … it was a good way to wrap up the season,” said Haddaway.

For the Kings, an extended regular season might have seen things play out differently as they turned a seesaw first part of the season into .500 hockey by the end of the 2009 campaign through grit and determination. Unfortunately, by then it was a little too late.

“I guess it’s an excuse and I don’t like to say it, but we just ran out of time – if the season’s another month I think we move up the standings probably two or three spots and then maybe we’re still playing.”

Unrewarded for their turn-around in 2009, the Kings were honoured by their coaches last Sunday at the youth centre in Elmira.

Perhaps the most prestigious award went to one of the squad’s most entertaining players, Brent Freeman. The top scorer on the team with 30 goals and 46 assists in 50 games, the Linwood native was ninth in the Mid-Western Conference race.

A skillful, classy, two-way forward used on both the power play as well as on the penalty kill, the high-octane player will no doubt be missed by his team and its fans. For his efforts, Freeman also picked up the regular season MVP trophy.

“I think Brent probably got a lot of votes as a league MVP because he’s one of those guys that, from a league perspective, everybody respects and maybe is a little underrated,” said Haddaway.

“As the season went on teams knew that our success went through Brent Freeman.”

Captain and hometown player Patrick Shantz also picked up a pair of trophies for sportsmanship and leadership and the coaches’ cup (best exemplifies perseverance and dedication to hockey). The reliable defender and undisputed leader quickly became a key component with the Kings’ squad since joining midway through last season. He became an integral part of the Kings’ successful Cherrey Cup run in the spring of 2008. His leadership skills were not unnoticed, and the Elmira native was quickly named captain of the squad for the 2008-2009 season.

“He really grew into the role of captain; he’s just such a great kid and was a great liaison between the young guys and the coaching staff and the veterans in the room,” Haddaway said.

“At any given night if we weren’t playing hockey you could probably phone Shantz’s house, and a lot of the guys were there or hanging out with Pat. I think people are just drawn to him because he’s such a good guy, he’s such a team guy.”

Josh Ranalli, who more than likely featured the biggest number of family members attending the banquet last Sunday, was named “rookie of the year.” The 18-year-old Stoney Creek native quickly adapted to the Sugar Kings’ style of play. Second on the team’s scoring list with 25 goals and 38 assist in 52 games, Rannalli quickly eased his way on to the top line with Kyle McNeil and Freeman.

West Montrose’s Jarred Parent received the Dave Uberig Memorial trophy for top local minor hockey grad. A high-energy player, Parent improved throughout the season and became a crucial player during the Kings’ playoff series against the Kitchener Dutchmen.

The Kings’ top defenceman this season was Trent Brown. A smart player with offensive flair, Brown was fifth on the team’s scoring leader’s list picking up 10 goals and 30 assists in 50 games.

Physical player Jeff Zippel, one of the team’s assistant captains, was the recipient of the award of excellence for best combining academics and hockey.

McNeil picked up the award for most valuable player during the playoffs, chipping in with physical and offensive play during the postseason.

Newcomer and grinder Tyler Kuntz was awarded for his defensive play, being named as the team’s outstanding defensive forward.

The Wellesley Applejacks also held their awards banquet on the weekend, reflecting on the season Mar. 21 at the Khaki Club near Wellesley.

On paper, 2008-2009 was a season the Applejacks and their fans would rather forget. Despite that, it wasn’t without its positives: trudging through a frustrating campaign the Jacks were unified as a team and kept fighting through to the end. They came close in many instances, losing numerous games in shootouts, over-time periods and by minimal goal margins.

“I’d like to think it’s an honour to win an award for the hockey team you played for no matter how you did,” said general manager Dave Litt.

That said, coming up with winners, though there were candidates, wasn’t exactly easy.

“Every player’s got value on your hockey club – it’s a team thing,” he said.

A deadlock in votes tabulated for the MVP trophy saw Dan Berwick – the Jacks leading scorer with 21 goals and 19 assists – share the hardware with captain and stalwart defenceman Scott Litt.

“I look at an MVP as a person that you miss a lot when they’re not in the lineup, a person who just comes out and is a valuable asset to your hockey team and I think both those guys fit the bill this year. Both of them did a good job for us,” said Litt.

Though the leading scorer, Berwick was also used by his coaches in many different situations.

“He matured a lot over his four years with this club… he was a boy when he came and a young man when he left.”

Scott Litt also picked up a second trophy for the team’s best defenceman.

Scott Hanley picked up some hardware for the most sportsmanlike player racking up a meager eight penalty minutes in 39 games.

“Look at the stats; he had eight penalty minutes in 39 games and he’s sixth on the team in scoring, so, it wasn’t that he wasn’t playing, he just stayed out of box. I think that speaks volumes for a young man, another four-year player,  who could stay composed and play the way he played and the roles he played and stay disciplined.”

Rob Bolger picked up the rookie of the year award, netting 13 goals and 12 assists, earning the third spot on the Jacks’ scoring roster. Chris Givlin was the local MVP player for playing through the Wellesley system and Chris Armstrong also picked up some metalwork (coaches award for dedication and commitment to the team) for being “an easy guy to coach.”

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