Emotions were running high – the scrapping was a sure sign of that – as the Elmira Sugar Kings and Waterloo Siskins met last Sunday in preseason play at the Dan Snyder Arena. Players on both sides were literally fighting to make their respective squads.
It’s typical for players to feel a heightened sense of anxiety this time of year, said Sugar Kings head coach Dean DeSilva.
“It’s players knowing that it’s their last opportunity to make the hockey club. There’s just you know, a little bit of nerves, trying to do something to get noticed and do whatever they can to get in the lineup, that’s what it comes down to,” DeSilva said after the game, which ended in a 1-1 draw.The referees’ whistles got plenty of work as altercations broke out, the result of tempers flaring and players trying to give it their all. The adrenaline was flowing as they vied in a close competition for a spot on their team’s roster.
Finalizing the Kings’ lineup for the beginning of the season was no easy task, according to DeSilva. Coaching staff deliberated for nearly three hours on Thursday before picking a roster for the beginning of the season.
Strong performances across the groups of hopefuls forced coaches to watch closely for players that stood out from the crowd.
“I can’t say enough about some of the young kids. There’ve been some young players that have really opened our eyes, very much a surprise at camp,” he said.
Impressive performances by relatively lesser known players came as a surprise to the coaching staff, DeSilva explained. Among players who made an impression during camp this summer was Matt Shiek, 17, who made this year’s roster. Alex Mutton and Kevin Gergely, both 16, were two others who did exceptionally well, but were cut from the team due to their young age.
“We didn’t expect those guys to do as well as they did and it was a pleasant surprise,” DeSilva said, adding that “there were some other players that were probably good enough to make the hockey club,” but it came down to how many the team could take on.
The coaches were looking for a few key traits this season, among them a flexibility to accept and perform in different roles on the team.
“A lot of speed, a lot of energy and players that want to be here that are going to give everything they absolutely have. There’s going to be certain roles that they’re going to have to accept, if they are willing to take those roles than we’ve got time for them,” he said of assets coveted by the team.
Though they are disappointed with the inevitable loss of certain players, coaches seem optimistic about new recruits.
Among players leaving the team is Will Cook who scored 16 goals in his first season and 34 in the past season during his final run with the Sugar Kings. DeSilva says he is sorry to see some good players leave the team either due to age or personal decision.
“Sorry to see [Cook] go but everybody has to make a decision that’s best for them and we’ll move on just as Will will move on.”
The Kings open their Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League season Friday night in Stratford before returning home Saturday afternoon to take on the Kitchener Dutchmen. The home-opener gets going at 2 p.m.