Woolwich midget hockey players will learn from the best Elmira has to offer starting this fall, as the Sugar Kings and the Woolwich Minor Hockey Association’s major midget team announced this week they’ll be launching a partnership to help local talent have more exposure to Junior B hockey and vice versa.WMHA president Rob Waters says the idea’s been in the works for a while.
“The partnership is we turn our major midget team into the Junior Sugar Kings and that’s called the starting point for the partnership,” Waters said. “The benefits to our players would be that we get a little more exposure to the Sugar Kings and integrating our association with their organization. Our organization benefits from having the Sugar Kings develop a mentoring program for our coaches.”
He says better coaching will turn out more skilled hockey players.
Sugar Kings director of hockey operations Keith Stewart says as the junior club in town it only makes sense to affiliate with the minor hockey system.
“It’s going to make minor hockey players better,” Stewart said. “We’re going to do some forums with the coaches and there’s going to be some on ice instruction for players at practices. I think it’s only going to help us in the long run in developing minor hockey players to a higher level.”
The partnership will be sponsored by the Dan Snyder Foundation, an organization spearheaded by Dan’s parents after he passed away from a car accident. He played minor hockey in Elmira and also for the Sugar Kings before heading to the NHL.
Dan’s father, Graham, said it fits well with the foundation’s mandate to assist Woolwich athletes in pursuing their goals. Dan had opportunities to play Junior B elsewhere but made a point of playing for his hometown, Elmira.
“I think it was important because the atmosphere in Elmira was really good and conducive to the opportunity to play with friends, to not have to leave home at a real young age,” Snyder said. “He had the opportunity to play Junior B hockey in his hometown and also to play minor hockey with the friends he went to school with.”
Waters, Stewart, and Paul Jennings started discussing the idea of a junior Kings team roughly a year and a half ago. Waters said they wanted to make sure they got it right before they launched it.
The partnership is for a three-year trial but he said they hope it will become a longstanding tradition.
“The motivation is both the Sugar Kings and Woolwich Minor Hockey want to do what we can to ensure we give our players every opportunity to get an opportunity to play with a team they’ve grown up watching and wanting to play for,” Waters said.
They’re going to set their schedule up in a way where it will give players more opportunities to practice with the Kings, or when they have injuries or suspensions or players writing exams the Sugar Kings can draw from their organization.
“I think they’re going to be excited,” Stewart said. “They look up to the Sugar Kings and it’s only going to help them, some better coaching is going to help their coaches develop and obviously the players are going to develop with new drills and things like that.”
The number of players joining the Sugar Kings who’ve gone through Woolwich Minor Hockey has decreased in recent years. As of now, Adam Brubacher is the only former Woolwich player on the team. The 1971-1972 Sugar Kings team had 14 players from the WMHA, including Graham Snyder. Waters says part of the decline is it’s becoming more difficult to make Junior B teams.
A couple of midget players have been regularly practicing with the Kings this year and have even filled in for missing players in some games. He expects they will attend the rookie camp.
“I’d love to have 20 kids from Elmira playing on my team but right now that’s not happening,” Stewart said. “Hopefully with this partnership and developing the players and helping the coaches out, mentoring their coaches it’s going to help. Maybe someday it can get to where you’ve got quite a few local Elmira boys in the lineup.”
Waters says the three-year trial is because it’s a big change for both organizations. They plan to review it at the end of each year to make sure both parties are contributing equally. Both organizations voted unanimously in favour of the partnership. They’re planning to have the major midget games either before or after the Sugar Kings’ home games on Sundays.
“The Sugar Kings and Woolwich Minor Hockey have had a long history of partnership and I think this is a commitment of the Sugar Kings and from Woolwich Minor Hockey to improve both associations,” Waters said. “Something I don’t think people realize is that we do work a lot with each other in various capacities.”
Stewart says the Kings are excited to see it get off the ground this year.
“It will give opportunities for young players in Woolwich to advance to the Sugar Kings and it will give the Sugar Kings a solid base of local hockey players and I think that can only improve their operation when they do have those in place,” Snyder said. “That’s what the Sugar Kings were founded on 40 some years ago, giving local players a chance to play.”