The road to the Elmira Sugar Kings defending their title as the Cherrey and Sutherland Cup champions begins on Monday night with the opening of training camp at the Woolwich Memorial Centre.
The defense of those titles won’t be easy, as the team witnessed some considerable turnover during the offseason.
Head coach Geoff Haddaway, who spent four years behind the bench in Elmira, decided to step down at the end of the team’s remarkable playoff run last season, while general manager Keith Stewart, who had a big hand in building the Sutherland Cup champs over the past four seasons, will still be involved this year but from the position of manager of hockey operations instead.
Replacing those two men is new head coach Dean De Silva, the former Waterloo Siskins head coach and a former assistant coach in Elmira under Haddaway four seasons ago, and GM Paul Jennings, the former general manager of last season’s first-place Guelph Hurricanes.
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On the ice, the team is poised for a major overhaul as well. With somewhere from 10 to 15 players returning, a good core of players still exists, but without key contributors like captain Josh Woolley and assistant Jarred Parent – who both graduated from the Junior hockey program last season – combined with the fact that Cory Genovese will likely be patrolling the Kitchener Rangers’ blue line come September and forward Brad Kraus opted to sign with the St. Thomas Stars, the makeup of the
team could be very different this season.
In total about 40 players will be at camp this week, vying for the approximately 25 spots available on the roster. Camp will consist of fitness training on Monday and Tuesday nights, followed by a pair of inter-squad games. The Kings will also suit up for five exhibition matches between Aug. 26 and Sept. 4.
“I’m able to see them in a game-like environment and also see what their coachability is like in practice and see how they carry over from what they learn in practice to the game,” said De Silva of their training camp schedule.
“It allows us to see what they can bring in their bag of tricks, as well as their work ethic and character.”
For the Kings, both the head coach and GM said they will value those last two qualities – work ethic and character – over pure talent. The GM also added that players had better be prepared to earn their roster spot in the coming weeks.
“At this point we haven’t made any decisions on any players yet and we’re going to let Monday and Tuesday decide what we do there,” said Jennings. “No one is guaranteed anything.”
Despite this no-nonsense approach to preparing for the upcoming year, the head coach does admit that there is always the possibility of the “Sutherland Cup hangover” in which players may be under the false impression that they might not have to work as hard as they did last year to achieve the same results.
“There’s always that concern,” said De Silva.
“We may get it handed to us pretty good in September and October until the guys realize that team’s are going to show up and play their best against us every night, because Elmira has something that these other teams want.”
Kings exhibition schedule:
Aug. 26 at 7:00 p.m.
at home vs. Waterloo
Aug. 28 at 3:30 p.m.
at home vs. Kitchener
Sept. 1 at 7:00 p.m.
Sept. 2 at 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 4 at 7:30 p.m.
at home vs. Stratford