The Elmira Sugar Kings have some significant roster spaces to fill but that doesn’t mean they won’t be competitive next season, according to head coach Geoff Haddaway.
The Kings have lost a number of players from last season’s team, some expected and some unexpected. Three players have signed with other clubs, and two more have tryouts with OHL teams. The coaching staff also knew they would be without veterans Jeff Zippel and Michael Therrien, who graduated out of the Junior hockey system last year.
One of the team’s veteran defencemen, Jake Jefferies, has a co-op placement through school and won’t be able to commit the time necessary. And top blueliner Jon Jutzi is headed to play with the Powell River Kings of the British Columbia Hockey League.
“We’re obviously very pleased for Jon; he’s moving to what most people would suggest is the best Junior hockey outside of the CHL,” Haddaway said.
Goaltender Brendan Gorecki will be playing Junior A next season with the Milton Icehawks. Last year’s top rookie, Ryan Johnston, and forward Tyson LeBlanc have also signed with Junior A clubs – Johnston with Nepean, and LeBlanc with Newmarket – signings that came as something of a surprise to the coaching staff.
Two players the Kings would welcome back but aren’t counting on are Brennon Pearce and top scorer Riley Sonnenburg, who have tryouts with OHL teams. Another player with an asterisk beside his name is Seth Horricks, who may have work commitments that interfere.
Although the player turnover is higher than expected, Haddaway commented that it seems to be the nature of the league.
“Last year, by bringing in so many young guys – even though we would lose some – we could still have a strong returning core, and that’s exactly what we do have.”
Returning next season are Andrew Smith, Brad Kraus, Shane Smith, Zach Salomon, Lukas Baleshta, Jarred Parent, Spencer MacCormack, Kody Ellis, Nick Horrigan and Josh Woolley.
The Kings have traded Andrew Schacht to Waterloo for blueliner Colton Wolfe-Sabo, who had 18 points last season and 27 in his rookie season with the Siskins. Haddaway would like to add another offensive defenceman and a stay-at-home player to fill Zippel’s role.
Up front, the Kings have signed Brady Campbell, who played Junior C in Blenheim last year, notching 19 goals and 20 assists. The coach would like to add another top-six scoring forward, and said the rest of the forward positions will be filled by players who display grittiness and a strong work ethic.
Haddaway said the coaching staff would like to have the roster finalized as quickly as possible after training camp opens Aug. 23, but the reality is they’ll be tweaking it up to and past the start of the season.
“No one likes to think of it this way, but I’ve said to many players in the past, tryouts go right up to Jan 10, because that’s when you can still tinker with the roster,” Haddaway said.
The team looks to be on the young side again this year, with only two 20-year-olds (Parent and Woolley) on the roster at this point.
“To me, that’s a good thing,” Haddaway said. “I don’t ever want youth to be equated with ‘can’t win,’ because some of the hungriest teams I’ve ever coached were young. The team the Elmira Sugar Kings finished with last year may have been the youngest in the league, and we were certainly close to winning. The guys that are coming back, they have one more year of Junior experience, and that’s supposed to go a long way to helping us develop this year.”