Despite falling short of their ultimate goal of winning the Sutherland Cup, the team’s 2014-15 Cherrey Cup-winning season is something to be proud of, Elmira Sugar Kings president Dave O’Donoghue told a full-house at the Elmira Lions Hall on Sunday.Players, coaches, volunteers, friends and family gathered for the annual awards banquet to celebrate a successful campaign which saw the club place first in the Greater Ontario Hockey League’s Midwestern Conference during the regular season with a record of 38-7-4, make a deep run in the playoffs, winning the conference championship before falling in the Sutherland Cup semi-finals in the seventh game of a best-of-seven series to the Leamington Vipers.
“While we didn’t quite make it to the ultimate goal, we did reach every single other goal that we set for ourselves at the start of the season,” O’Donoghue said. “Our players, coaching staff, volunteers and fans should be very proud of what we accomplished, and of that beautiful (Cherrey Cup) trophy we have here today.”
Outgoing director of hockey operations Keith Stewart, who is moving into the Cambridge Winter Hawks’ front office for next season, agreed.
“This season was a great success, and I’m pleased to see some of the guys are going to be moving up to higher levels. We did our job, these guys come in here as little boys and they leave as men.”
The club handed out numerous awards recognizing individual achievements.
Centreman Mitch Klie and goaltender Jonathan Reinhart were named the most valuable players during the regular season by the coaching staff and management.
“Normally the MVP goes to just one player,” head coach Jeff Flanagan said. “We pick the award just before the end of the regular season so that the playoffs don’t skew our viewpoint on a player one way or the other. And so what we do is look at which player or players impact the team every night and which players, if they weren’t in the lineup, leave the biggest holes. And then of course successes, whether it be points or other stats that we keep as a coaching staff (are factored in as well).”
Throughout the season, Reinhart, who notched 28 wins, five shutouts, a 2.44 goals against average and a .922 save percentage, and Klie, who led the team with 67 points (14 goals, 53 assists) were the “wheels in the cog that kept us turning,” Flanagan said.
Reinhart was also named the most valuable player for the playoffs along with defenseman Brodie Whitehead.
“Brodie Whitehead most certainly played the best hockey of his career during the playoffs,” Flanagan said. “He worked hard all year, of course, but he changed things to make us a better team during the playoffs, whether it was taking less penalties, blocking shots or doing what the coaches would ask him, he gave 100 per cent effort on every shift in every game. He was prepared every night and that really gave us the opportunity to get to where we got.”
Reinhart’s play got even better in the playoffs, as he posted a .934 save percentage and a 2.03 goals against average (in seven Sutherland Cup games, those numbers were .922 and 2.98 respectively).
“He led our team, obviously, by not letting very many goals in. But especially in game three against Stratford (in the Cherrey Cup finals) when we went to double overtime. He stole the game for us. And that’s very rare. And even though we won the series 4-1, the series didn’t go the way the number of games won and lost looks, we didn’t think. That game could have been the turning point in the series and he gave us the chance to stay in a game where we were not playing very well and Stratford was really taking it to us and he gave us the opportunity to win.”
Rookie of the year went to Ethan Skinner, who notched 18 goals and 17 assists.
The award for best defensive forward was given to Rob Kohli.
Mac Clutsam was named the team’s top defenseman, after leading all Midwestern Conference blueliners with 49 points (9 goals, 40 assists).
Defenseman Adam Brubacher was selected as the best Woolwich Minor Hockey graduate and recognized for his academic achievement at Wilfrid Laurier University.
Finally, the players that aged out of GOJHL at the end of the season, Whitehead, Mitch Wright, Steven Jakiela and Chad Herron (Eric Palazzolo was not present), received framed jerseys and pictures.
“It’s not very common for a player to play all four years with one team in junior hockey,” Flanagan said. “And for Brodie Whitehead to have stayed and really grasped onto being a Sugar King is something that needs to be commended. Mitch Wright, the same thing. He had opportunities to move onto other places, but he knew that being a Sugar King is special and that he could help us win and that this is a great place. Chad Herron came in at the trade deadline and did everything that he was asked. He worked hard and was a good person. Steve Jakiela I think came in part way through the season a couple years ago and he is a happy-go-lucky guy, he’s in great shape and all the guys like him. He keeps things light around the room. He’s been working towards becoming a police officer and we hope that we’ve helped him to build some qualities that are going to help him with that. And Eric Palazzolo came in half way through last year and was an excellent person that worked hard and did everything that was asked of him and was very respectful. We were lucky to have him as well. We’re graduating guys that are good people and I think they are going to be successful whether it’s post-secondary hockey, or careers or whatever it may be, so we’re very proud of them.”
The Sugar Kings are now off for some much needed rest and relaxation, and won’t get back on the ice at the WMC until training camp in August.
But they will be out on the links June 15 for their annual golf tournament at the Elmira Golf Club.