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Hanging it up after 37 years with the Kings

Gary Schaefer, trainer for the Elmira Sugar Kings for 37 years, received an emotional retirement tribute from players and staff at the team’s awards banquet April 27. Schaefer, who is stepping down because of weakness in his knees, has been fixture of the team across four arenas, and speakers remembered “Schaef” as a reliable presence during decades of growth and change.

“Schaef,” who was honoured at the Elmira Sugar Kings’ awards banquet after announcing his retirement, has logged 1,472 regular season games, 355 playoff games, and approximately 1,600 practices since 1977.[Will Sloan / The Observer]
“Schaef,” who was honoured at the Elmira Sugar Kings’ awards banquet after announcing his retirement, has logged 1,472 regular season games, 355 playoff games, and approximately 1,600 practices since 1977. [Will Sloan / The Observer]
“In some cases, you have been the players’ best friend, and sometimes a father,” said scout John Craig, who tracked Schaefer’s career through three Sutherland Cups and an OHA Trainer of the Year award. “But most of all, you have looked after our Kings,” he added.

“Rookies find out very quickly, Schaeff has quite a sense of humour,” said team historian Bob Cummings. “A rookie would come into a room and ask him about something, and Schaeff will turn around and look at him, and rookies won’t know what the hell to do. He’ll yell out, ‘Do I look like your mother?’ and they’ll just kind of sit there, stunned for a little bit.”

Cummings calculated Schaefer’s participation in 1,472 regular season games, 355 playoff games, and approximately 1,600 practices since 1977, not counting his volunteer work for the Ontario Hockey Association. Midwestern Conference convener and former Sugar Kings coach John East remembered, “Whenever we needed him to look after an all-star game, a prospect game, Sean [Mckelvie] would say, ‘What do you think, do we give Schaef a call?’ I said, ‘Damn right, because I know he’ll be there!’ … Nowadays, it’s tough getting guys to show up to these games, they think it’s too much time out of their schedules, but not for Schaef – he came.”

Fighting tears, Schaefer said in a speech, “To the parents who are here today, I say: Be proud of your sons. They have done well for the Elmira Sugar Kings, and they will continue to do well in whatever they do.”

In an interview after the ceremony, Schaefer said that it was the players who kept him coming back every year. “Young boys come in as young boys, and they leave as almost adults. I love that some of them move on to higher and better things – some go to NCAA, some go to pro camps, some go to senior hockey – and the ones that don’t, that’s fine, I’ve enjoyed their presence.”

He added, “I can tell you, it’s been a long time since we’ve had a bad influence in the dressing room. … They’re good, down-to-earth kids.”

By now, Shaefer is so much a part of the fabric of the team that his office is labeled “Schaef’s Room.” Will it really be so easy to keep “the King of the Kings” away from the rink? “It’s going to be really tough,” he laughed. “I’ve told them if they run into a problem and need someone to fill in, if they give me a call I’d gladly come.”

On September 21, the Elmira Sugar Kings will host Gary Schaefer Night at the WMC. Schaefer is currently nominated for the 2013-14 OHA Trainer of the Year.

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