A band of brothers gather around a small table inside the Waterloo Rod and Gun club where they hug, laugh, share stories and reminisce about days past. The very recent past, in fact, as the this group of Elmira Sugar Kings put the cap on the 2011-12 season at their annual awards banquet May 6.
Accolades and trophies were handed out in healthy measures.
Although the team was eliminated from the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League playoffs in the second round against Stratford, head coach Dean DeSilva believes his team had a good year on and off the ice.
“People may look back and say we did not have a successful year because we did not win our last game but if you judge success on that, there are 25 teams in our league that did not have a successful year. I dare you to say that to teams that made it to the playoffs for the first time or went further than they have ever gone in the playoffs,” said DeSilva.Over the course of the season the Kings broke many long standing club records, including starting the season with a 14-0 winning streak. The team had 40 wins over a 51-game season, earning 82 points to set a new club record.
“These guys worked very hard everyday they were at the rink, it was incredible. They played through bad shoulders, bad backs, wrists, knees, everything and never once made an excuse for it,” said DeSilva. “Success is measured in different ways and the guys here need to take some time and appreciate some of the success they have had.”
In the month of November the team raised $5,500 for prostate cancer, only three hockey teams across Canada and each of those are major Junior hockey clubs with a lot larger fan base, raised more money than the Kings.
There are eight players leaving the squad this year and they are either heading to the CIS, OHL or the NCAA and that is a huge success for the organization, said DeSilva.
In celebrating the season, the Kings also said goodbye to some key individuals.
Those leaving the team include goaltender Nick Horrigan, who played 111 games as a King. Forward Brad Kraus played 153 games in the league, while forward Riley Sonnenburg wore a Kings jersey for 170 games. Scott Nagy racked up 192 games, forward Andrew Smith played 196 as a King, while forward Lukas Baleshta played 206 games for Elmira, putting up more than 200 points. Brett Priestap played 230 games in the league for Elmira and Cambridge. Captain Colton Wolfe-Sabo successfully played 266 games in the league between Waterloo and Elmira.
“This has been an incredible run playing four years in the league, the last two with Elmira,” said Wolfe-Sabo. “I will say that the support from the community in Elmira is phenomenal: it is so good here, especially for a smaller town you could not ask for more from a community. I will miss the guys, for sure, and playing in the rink, but I have to say the fans in Elmira are the best in the entire Junior B league.”
After all the awards were handed out DeSilva spoke to his team with an emphasis on the players leaving the squad.
“Opportunities don’t come along everyday and when they do you should embrace them, acknowledge them, be willing to change for them and don’t ever take them for granted because it is not how long you do something that matters but what you do while you are doing it that counts,” he said.
“The guys that are leaving us should be able to look back on their time playing in the league as a success. When they look back at their time with the Sugar Kings, I know they will smile,” said DeSilva. “All these guys will have success in everything they do.”
This weekend the club is holding its annual spring training camp at the Cambridge arena where officials will be looking for the next generation of Kings.
It will be a rebuilding season next year and DeSilva will be looking for players that have a hard work ethic and discipline on and off the ice.
“I am basically looking for a team of Cass Frey’s,” said DeSilva, who offered the vacant captaincy to the 19-year-old Frey last week. “We are looking for players that come in, work hard and never give up.”
There are more than a few holes to fill in the team next year and DeSilva said that players coming to the training camp will have a lot of opportunities to impress him and the other coaches.
“We will be getting back to old-fashioned Sugar King style of hockey next year.”