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Kings banquet caps off a stellar year

The best Junior B hockey squad in the entire province recognized their finest players last Sunday night as the Elmira Sugar Kings held their annual awards gala at Lions Hall.

The room was packed as hundreds of fans, families, friends and alumni gathered one final time to congratulate the 2010/ 2011 Sutherland Cup champions and to recognize their best and brightest players.

“It takes a tremendous effort throughout the whole year to operate a Junior hockey team,” said club president Jeff Seddon. “I think the fan support that you gave the guys and the comments from teams about the support we had for our team was a tribute to everyone in this room.”

Appropriately enough, the Barbara Schaefer Memorial Award for fan favourite was handed out first and presented by Gary Schaefer. This is the second year for the award, voted on by fans and given in honour of Gary’s late wife, who died in 2004.

DEPARTING GESTURES Departing players Jarred Parent (left) and Josh Woolley accept their framed game-worn jerseys from former head coach Geoff Haddaway to cap off the Kings’ annual awards gala on Sunday night at Lions Hall.

“Our fans are number one and I don’t care where you go – east coast, west coast, anywhere,” he said.

This year’s winner was the Kings’ outgoing captain, Josh Woolley, whose rough-nosed and grinding style of play epitomized the Sugar Kings all season and made him a fan favourite ever since he arrived from
Cambridge part way through last season.

Woolley was also named the winner of the Award of Excellence, presented to a player that best combines hockey and academic excellence throughout the season.

Lukas Baleshta took home the Elmira Insurance Agency Award for top scorer in regular season and the Sugar Kings Twin City Memorial Trophy for regular season MVP.

Baleshta was a star all season for the Kings, racking up 22 goals, 44 assists, four game-winning goals and 11 powerplay goals. He was also selected by the league to play against the touring Russian Red Stars back in January.

Fourth-year player Jarred Parent also took home a pair of trophies: the Don Duke Memorial Trophy for sportsmanship and leadership, as well as the Norm Hipel Memorial Trophy given each year to the top defensive forward on the team. It was the second consecutive year the West Montrose native won the top
defensive award.

The Elmira Sports Trophy for rookie of the year honours went to 18-year-old Brady Campbell, who finished first on the team for regular season goals (28) and third in points (54) while playing in 51 games and logging heavy minutes on the powerplay. He stepped up this season after making the move from Junior C last year when he scored 19 goals and 20 assists in 40 games. He tallied another 28 points in the playoffs as well.

Defensive coach Kyle Campbell presented the James Austin Memorial Trophy for top defenceman on the team, and admitted to some difficulty in choosing just one – particularly on a team that prides itself on defence as much as the Kings.

“This is a very tough award for us to decide on. We’ve got seven phenomenal defenceman on our team,” he said.

In the end, however, the team chose perhaps their best offensive defenceman in the regular season in Wade Pfeffer, who finished with nine goals and 30 assists, was named a second-team all-star and also played against the Russians in January. He was a steadying presence on the blue line and helped spark the offense with a tremendous first pass out of the zone.

Andrew Smith and Nick Horrigan shared the Coaches Cup this season, given annually to the player who best displays dedication and perseverance to the sport of hockey, and it proved a difficult speech for former head coach Geoff Haddaway as he choked back tears.

“Three things in life that are certain for me are that I am going to cry at a wedding, a funeral, and at a Sugar King banquet,” he told the crowd.

The Sugar Kings Alumni Award for playoff MVP was shared this year between forward Josh MacDonald and defenceman Shane Smith. MacDonald led the league in scoring at the end of the playoffs and truly took his game to a new level. He scored five goals and 12 assists in the Cherrey Cup round, before adding another six goals and 11 assists in the Sutherland Cup series, finishing with 34 points for the playoffs – two more than he scored in the regular season.

Smith was a solid, dependable player throughout the playoffs, was a leader for the defence corps, and chipped in with three goals and nine assists in the playoffs.

Larry Farr presented the Dawn Farr Memorial Trophy to Donna Martin, the club’s volunteer of the year, and Brian Campbell – Brady Campbell’s uncle – presented the entire team and the coaches with plaques of the team roster and the scoring summaries of both the Cherrey and Sutherland Cup wins engraved on it, along with the Kings’ 40th anniversary logo.

Finally, in his last act as the head coach of the Kings, Geoff Haddaway presented departing players Jarred Parent and Josh Woolley with game-worn Kings’ jerseys in black frames.

“Usually for the graduating players who have played for more than one year, the Sugar King tradition is that they get a ring,” said Haddaway, pausing, “but this year… we all get rings.”

Perhaps no one said it best than when assistant coach Kyle Rank – a member of the Kings when they last won the Sutherland Cup in 2001 – closed out the evening by telling the players that they should cherish this season for the rest of their lives.

“I was lucky enough to win one of these and it’s a pretty cool feeling. I know all the hard work and commitment that goes into it, and it sticks with you forever. Just enjoy it.”

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