The Elmira Sugar Kings opened training camp this week looking to flesh out a roster that is going to be on the young side this year.
The Kings have only two 20-year-olds committed to the team at this point – captain Jeff Zippel and forward Michael Therrien – and only three or four 19-year-olds.
“That doesn’t bother me; I like that. I like the fact that we’re going to be young,” said head coach Geoff Haddaway.
There are some significant gaps to fill with the prospects, particularly on the offensive lines. Several key players, including former captain Patrick Shantz, graduated out of the system last year, while others opted to play tier two hockey instead.
“I would say five of our top six offensive players – [Brent] Freeman, [Josh] Ranalli, [Kyle] McNeil, [Kyle] Blaney, Trent Brown – that was most of our offence right there.”
That said, Haddaway liked the energy and enthusiasm he saw when the team hit the ice on Monday.
“I’d say it looks like we’re going to be a fast-skating and very aggressive team, that’s what my early call would be.”
The Kings held a prospect camp in May, with 30 players out of 68 invited back to the main training camp. The Kings’ scouts have recruited from all over southwestern Ontario and farther afield, with one likely prospect coming from Sudbury.
Haddaway explained to the players that the season moves through stages, from the prospects camp to the training camp and then ramping up to the season with an exhibition game against Cambridge on Wednesday. He’s watching to see how the players respond to each new challenge.
“Every time you hit this new stage … the competition gets better and faster and stronger and so you have to be prepared for that next step. That’s what we’re hoping to see, that guys are able to meet that challenge.”
With a practice Thursday and two more exhibition games Saturday and Sunday, Haddaway expects the coaching staff will have a good idea of the lineup by the end of the weekend. The regular season kicks off next weekend, with the home opener in the new Woolwich Memorial Centre set for Sept. 13.
Haddaway said the team is enjoying the new facility, and he’s hearing lots of good comments from players and parents. The new arena has also played into the team’s pitch to prospective players.
“For sure the facility was a selling point or one of the main selling points for the recruit we brought in from up north. It certainly wasn’t the only thing, but when he saw the arena, he was very impressed.”
The Kings have also added a new face to the coaching bench with the addition of assistant coach Ryan Alischer. Alischer was Haddaway’s assistant when he coached the Kitchener Dutchmen, before coming to Elmira.
As the regular season approaches, Haddaway said the coaches are infected with the same excitement as the players.
“We’re all excited and we can’t wait to get it going.”