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A time of celebration and reflection for the Kings

Elmira Sugar Kings forward Mitch Wright takes a shot during the club’s 7-6 victory over the Cambridge Winter Hawks September 28 at the Dan Snyder Arena. [Scott Barber / The Observer]

The Elmira Sugar Kings officially wrapped up their 2013-14 season last Sunday as players, staff, family and friends gathered for the team’s annual awards banquet. The lunchtime event, held at the Waterloo Rod and Gun Club, gave the Junior B squad a chance to look back at a year that saw them reach second place in the regular season before falling in the second round of the playoffs.

Hayden Neuman was cited for academic and hockey excellence.[Will Sloan / The Observer]
Hayden Neuman was cited for academic and hockey excellence. [Will Sloan / The Observer]
“It’s always disappointing as your season ends a bit early,” said Kings general manger Paul Jennings to the audience. “It’s great to take a step back and then reconvene, get everybody back here together.”

With the departure of team president Mike Benjamins and longtime trainer Gary Schaefer, “Once a King, Always a King” was the banquet’s oft-repeated mantra.

“The Kings have been running for 44 years, and I believe we have every generation spoken for this evening,” said Jennings. “The people who were here from day one, right up until our coaches and kids are here today. That really exemplifies the Elmira Sugar Kings family.”

The Elmira Insurance Agency trophy for regular season top-scorer went to Adam Campagnolo, who also took home the Sugar King Memorial Award as the regular season MVP. Campagnolo made a strong impact in his first and only year with the Kings, as he logged 60 points (24 goals, 36 assists) in the regular season. The Sugar Kings Alumni Award for 2014 playoff MVP went to Brad Kobryn and Cass Frey.

The Don Duke Memorial Award for sportsmanship and leadership was given to Mitch Wright. The Elmira Sports Award for rookie of the year, given to the player who shows the greatest development in his first year in the league, went to Jonathan Reinhart. The James Austin Memorial Award for outstanding defenceman went to David Savery.

Adam Brubacher received the David Uhrig Memorial Award for top local minor hockey prospect. Named for the defenceman who died during an exhibition game while still a prospect, the award is presented to the best player who has graduated from the local minor hockey system.

Head coach Jeff Flanagan presented the Coach’s Cup, an award for perseverance and dedication, to Justin Cooke. Flanagan recounted how Cooke was expected to never play hockey again after suffering a broken leg on the ice in January 2013. “Considering that, he came back in the middle of October, fully healthy, and led our team, along with our other leaders, through the season and into the playoffs. It is a remarkable achievement.”

Also, goalie Hayden Neuman was recognized with the Award of Excellence for achievement in hockey and academics; Rob Kohli was named the Outstanding Defensive Forward; Carolyn and Bruce Seiling shared the Dawn Farr Memorial Award for most dedicated volunteer; and Mitch Wright and David Savery tied the Barb Schaefer Memorial Award for fan favourite (voted on by Sugar King fans).

Next year will see a substantially different group of Elmira Sugar Kings take the ice. Justin Cooke, David Savery, Brad Kobryn, Michael Wilkins, Cass Frey, Adam Campagnolo, and Hayden Neuman have all aged out of the team (the graduating players received their jerseys mounted in frames).

In a speech, outgoing captain Cass Frey (whose 191 regular season games make him the fifth most prolific player in Sugar King history) said, “Playing on a championship team taught me a lot about what it takes to be successful, not only in life but hockey as well.”

“Whatever you do next, make your choice carefully, wisely, do your homework,” said Jennings to the players. “Because I’ve been in other organizations, I’ve seen the colour of the grass on the other side, and there’s no colour of green quite like being here.”

Looking forward to 2014-15, Jennings added, “To all you players who are coming back, come back ready to go, because our philosophy here is to try to win every year. That’s our job that we’re tasked with over the summertime.”

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