After falling in the second round of the playoffs to the Waterloo Siskins, the Elmira Sugar Kings have spent the summer adding young talent in hopes of capturing the club’s fourth Sutherland Cup.“We want to go further in the playoffs than we did last year,” Sugar King’s general manager Paul Jennings said. “We ran into a really good Waterloo team that got hot at the right time, but we want to build our team towards the playoffs. … The biggest thing for us coming in (to the offseason) is we wanted to improve our offensive output. We didn’t feel we scored enough, although we were a top five team in the province, we really wanted to score more and we wanted to get that from some youth.”
While the Kings excelled during the 2013-14 regular season, posting a record of 34-10-5 and finishing second in the Midwestern Conference, a lot of changes were necessary.
Every year is “a rebuilding season,” Jennings said, noting the number of quality players born in 1993 that graduated from the program. That list includes top scorers Adam Campagnolo and Brad Kobryn, along with captain Cass Frey and goalie Hayden Neuman.
To help fill the goal-scoring void, the Kings signed Ethan Skinner from the Grey Bruce Highlanders.
“Ethan Skinner led the Ontario Minor Hockey Association in scoring the last two years in a row and had 60 goals last year playing major midget, so he is extremely gifted,” Jennings said.
They also brought in Jamie Huber from the Wingham Ironman of the Western Junior C Hockey League.
“Jamie Huber had an outstanding year in Wingham,” Jennings said.” (He) went a really long way in the playoffs, which was a big bonus to us to get a player who is mature and has some playoff experience under his belt and had 41 goals as a 16 year-old. So we’re getting some really, really offensively gifted young men.”
Sugar King’s director of hockey operations Keith Stewart added, “They are skilled players who will put up some points this year. We are looking for a big offensive punch from those two guys.”
Another big addition will be Connor Hall, a 6’3” defenceman who was selected in the third round of this year’s Ontario Hockey League draft by the Kitchener Rangers.
“The mould of our team from our defence core is we want to be big and mobile and he certainly brings that,” Jennings said. “He is a young man that has a lot of maturity, plays really physical and fits into the style that we want to play.”
“He’s obviously going to be an OHL defenceman someday,” Stewart said. “He’s a great skater, he’s got good size and he adds a little bit of toughness to the team.”
Despite Hall’s tremendous skill, Stewart said that making the jump from minor hockey with the Cambridge Hawks to Junior B will be challenging.
“As a 16-year-old it will be a bit of a learning process for him,” Stewart said. “Obviously he’s going to be playing against 20-year-olds, but I expect by Christmas he’ll be right up to speed with everybody else. Guys are going to be bigger and stronger, so it’s just getting used to playing with them; coming out of minor hockey the pace of the game will be that much quicker.”
The Kings also picked up Barrie Colts prospect Brendan Schneider.
“We signed Brendan Schneider who is another really highly thought of player,” Jennings said. “He’s a Wellesley product who played in Waterloo and had a really big year at minor midget. He is probably one of the most highly skilled players in the entire draft, even though he went relatively late. (That) may be because he is a little bit undersized, but from a skill set standpoint he was probably one of the most skilled players in the entire draft.”
Other notable signings include Harrison Domagala from the Ancaster Jr. Avalanche, and Mitch Montgomery from the Cambridge Hawks.
With less then a month to training camp, Jennings says spots on the 2014-2015 are still up for grabs.
“We’re rally excited about the year. We’re in July so there are still a lot of spots to be determined yet. Although some guys are signed, we still have to go through a whole training camp so their spots are still in doubt, even though they’re signed, they’ve got to come in and be ready to compete for time, because the standards here are very high.”
The new group of players will join a strong core led by Mitch Wright, Cash Seraphim and Mitch Klie, Jennings said.
“We’ve got some really great offensive players here currently. Our goaltending is going to be extremely key. Jonathan Reinhart is coming in and he really solidified himself last year as an elite player and we expect big things from our back end. We think we are going to be a team that can defend and not give up as many goals, and we’re going to be a lot better.”