For the fourth time, the Elmira Sugar Kings hoisted the Sutherland Cup as Ontario’s best Junior B hockey club.
After defeating the London Nationals in Game 5, helmets and gloves were strewn across the ice as the Kings’ bench cleared and the team jumped on each other in a celebratory bear hug. Before the celebration, the team fought their way to a 4-1 win in London at the Western Fair arena last Friday night.
The win gave the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League squad its first provincial title since 2011.
Head coach Ty Canal says seeing the celebration was a great way to end their extra-long season.
“The guys were obviously excited. It was fun to watch, just the pure excitement and joy on their faces for one another and they were definitely excited. I don’t really know how else to explain it,” he said. “We played 27 playoff games. That is another half a season in games, so there was a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication and a lot of ups and downs they went through throughout the year to finally be there. To be able to raise that trophy was something special to see.”
After winning the first three games of the series, the Kings had lost Game 4 at home on May 3, sending it back to London, where they dominated the game. Goalie Jonathan Reinhart only let one goal get past him.
“I thought we played exactly how we needed to play. Besides London getting an early goal in the third, but I mean, it was expected that they would have some fight back. I think we got off to a great start, and we got the first goal this time and built on that,” said Canal.“Our penalty kill was strong, our power play got a goal, the game winner, and in the third period we just had to make sure we didn’t give up a lot. London had a lot of firepower, but our guys did a great job holding it together, keeping them to the outside and taking care of the tight areas that we needed to. We played well with and without the puck, and it was a good hockey game for us.”
The Kings started scoring in the first with a marker from Jacob Black, assisted by Zack Cameron and Tyler McBay. Klayton Hoelscher brought the tally to two on the power play with one minute and forty seconds left in the period, helped along by Jake Brown and Ethan Skinner.
After a scoreless second period, London got one on the board from Quinn Lenihan, assisted by Brenden Trottier and Austin Kemp. Elmira blocked any other scoring chances from London, while potting two more of their own goals. The first came from Mitch Hoelscher (Jeff Jordan, Skinner) and the second from Brown, unassisted.
As soon as the final buzzer sounded, the celebrations began. The Sutherland Cup was brought out on to the ice, and each player took a turn skating with the cup above their heads, some kissing it.
For the five players that are moving on from Junior B hockey and the Sugar Kings next year, Canal says it was a great way to end their careers in junior hockey.
“There is definitely no better way to finish your junior career than to be able to raise a trophy,” he said.“There are not a lot of players that can say they did that. It definitely goes out to those guys, and also the guys that are first year in the league, or the guys who have played a couple of years that haven’t won a trophy. All of that stuff came together and all of them should definitely be proud and excited about all that they have accomplished this year.”
While the season may be ending on a high note, it wasn’t always easy for the guys, but they worked through the lows and came together.
“The guys never stopped working, they never stopped competing and I think the big thing is that they never stopped believing they could do it. It didn’t matter what happened, the ups, the downs, losing the Cherrey Cup, the guys never stopped believing in the end goal. We are fortunate enough that we came out on top,” said Canal. “I think that is a great thing, when you have a team that doesn’t stop believing in one another, they don’t ride the roller coaster too high or too low throughout the playoffs. I thought a lot of that shows the character that the players have. They are willing to play for one another, and do what it takes. It is just fun to see.”
The Sugar Kings earned themselves the wildcard spot in the Sutherland Cup playoffs after losing the Midwestern Conference title, and the Cherrey Cup, to the Listowel Cyclones in six games. They were tied with St. Catharines in winning percentage, so it came down to goal differentials after Game 6 against the Cyclones.
In the first round of the Sutherland Cup playoffs, the Kings defeated the Caledonia Corvairs of the Golden Horseshoe Conference in six, and the Western Conference champion Nationals took out the Cyclones before meeting Elmira in the finals.
Elmira won the first three games of the London series (3-2, 2-0, 4-1) before giving up Game 4.
The Kings finished the regular season with a 38-11-1 record and no overtime losses. In the playoffs, they finished with 18 wins and nine losses.
The team’s end-of-season awards banquet will be held on June 4 at the Elmira Lions Hall at 1 p.m.