Just hours before the Elmira Sugar Kings suffered their ninth straight loss on Sunday night, they gave head coach Jeff Flanagan the boot.
Assistant coach Ty Canal has taken over as head coach for the remainder of the season.
General manager Jeff Snyder says it’s not something they take lightly, but a change was necessary.
“It was a very difficult decision to make. But we just felt we were in a position where we had to do something. We had lost eight games in a row, and probably more so than that, we just didn’t like the way we were playing and we thought we weren’t improving,” Snyder said.
He said they had talked at the beginning of the year about how it was going to take some time for the new players to gel, but they didn’t expect it to take so long. From last year’s Cherrey Cup team, five aged out and another six left for other teams and other leagues, including both goalies.
They thought as players got more experience they’d improve from month to month, but that hasn’t exactly happened.
“I would probably say that we’re playing worse in the last five or six games than we did in the first five or six games of the year. It was a trend that we saw that we didn’t like and we thought we were playing better hockey at the beginning of the year than now, and that was an issue for us, for sure,” Snyder said.
Flanagan served as head coach for the Sugar Kings for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 season, leading the team to a Cherrey Cup championship just last season. He previously coached fellow junior B teams the Listowel Cyclones and Guelph Hurricanes, as well as the University of Guelph’s men’s hockey team.
He was selected as the head coach of the GOJHL All-Star Team for 2014-15 and the head coach of the GOJHL Top Prospects Team for 2013-14. For 10 months from 2014 to 2015 he worked as an OHL scout for the Peterborough Petes.
Flanagan started his coaching career as an assistant coach for the U of G men’s hockey team in 2001. He held assistant and associate coach positions for the Basingstoke Bisons in the EIHL in 2004, the Powell River Kings in the BCHL in 2005, the Reading Royals in the ECHL in 2006, and the U of G men’s hockey team again in 2007 as an associate coach.
His first stint as a head coach came in 2008 for HC Gardena. He spent five months as the head coach and director of hockey operations for the Johnstown Chiefs in the ECHL from 2009-10, before heading up the Guelph Hurricanes from 2009-10.
“We were hoping for a better result [on Sunday], but I think we saw some things that we liked as far as enthusiasm. And now we’ll have a chance to have three good practices with Ty at the helm this week, so he can put his kind of stamp on the team and how he wants us to play. I think those three practices will really help clear up any confusion there might have been on what people’s responsibilities were. I hope we’ll gain some confidence from some good practices and carry that forward into the weekend,” Snyder said.
Canal previously worked as an assistant coach and then interim head coach for the Stratford Cullitons from 2011 to 2015. He joined the Sugar Kings this season. He also used to play for the Cullitons. A Lakeforest College graduate, he and fellow Kings assistant coach Trent Brown played together while in college.
Canal says his main concern in his new position is ensuring the players are always improving individually and as a team.
“A lot of it just comes from hard work and believing in one other, communicating with everyone as well. The more you believe in the team and individually and in what your goals and achievements you want are I think that becomes easier for the players to work harder and strive for the same goal, making sure everyone’s on the same page,” Canal said.
The Kings have a 4-10-1 record and haven’t won since Oct. 4. They have the second worst goals against record in the league of 71. Canal remains optimistic.
“I think we have a very good hockey team. We have very good players, good leaders in the room, and I do think that once the guys are able to believe in one another I think we can be successful. The sky will be the limit for them,” Canal said.