It was a very long season for the Elmira Sugar Kings, but absolutely no one on the team had any complaints about that. A strong season was capped by 27 playoff games that led to the ultimate prize: the Sutherland Cup, awarded to the best Junior B team in the province.
The team finished the regular season in second place in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Midwestern Conference with 77 points from 38 wins and only 11 losses. They didn’t make it to the Cherrey Cup this year despite taking out the Guelph Hurricanes and the Kitchener Dutchmen, followed by a disappointing final series loss against the Listowel Cyclones in Game 6, but the year wasn’t over yet.
The season continued after the Kings earned themselves the wildcard spot in the league-wide Sutherland Cup series. The team made it through the semi-finals in six games against three-time cup winners the Caledonia Corvairs, before moving on to dominate the London Nationals.
The Kings hoisted the Sutherland Cup in London after an exciting Game 5 win on May 5, posting a 4-1 victory. They won the first three games of the series (3-2, 2-0, 4-1) before coming up just short of a series sweep in Game 4, losing 6-4.
Former head coach Ty Canal says the win only happened because the team banded together after the tough Cherrey Cup loss to Listowel. It wasn’t all smooth sailing.
“It is not often that you get a second chance at the ultimate goal. The first practice after that loss was tough,” he said. “Any time you lose it isn’t easy and that was the mood. We had a talk with them, though and by that second practice, everybody had flipped a switch. It was good hockey to watch.”
For Canal, however, it isn’t just about the big win at the end. It was about seeing the players just get better and better on the ice.
“Defensive play was huge for us. We worked on that all throughout the regular season … and when things are tight and you have a one-goal game, or if we are taking too many penalties, that could end the season,” he said. “They really stepped up and really focused on that, and I think we elevated from there. We want to be tough to play against. Those things from a coaching standpoint, watching the players develop, it is just fun to be there.”
For Kings’ forward Jake Brown, the 2016-2017 season marked the fourth time he has won the Sutherland Cup, having played his first three years of Junior hockey with Caledonia as the Corvairs rattled off three consecutive cup wins.
Along with three other players on the Kings, it was also Brown’s last year of junior hockey. Brown, goalie Jonathan Reinhart and Joshua Slegers have committed to the University of Windsor Lancers. Quinten Bruce is also be moving on next year, having aged out of Junior.
Mitch Hoelscher will be spending next season with the Ottawa 67s. He was drafted 56th overall in the 2016 OHL Priority Draft and was called up six times this season.
Canal has stepped down from the team, with assistant coach Trent Brown taking over the role of head coach. Canal says a team like the Sugar Kings is hard to find.
“You can get a team that is really close and they all want to play for each other, but that is hard to find. These guys are all friends,” he said.