It was a dramatic season for the Sugar Kings this year as the team came close, but couldn’t quite recreate the magic of last season.
The winners of the 2017 Sutherland Cup made it all the way to the semis this year before ultimately being swept from the series. It was the Caledonia Corvairs, their opponents in the previous season’s finals, who got revenge for last year’s defeat and took down the Kings.
Still, looking back at the season, there is no doubting that the Sugar Kings not only played well, they improved on themselves throughout. Despite coming third in the regular season, and making it to the Cherrey Cup finals, the Kings had a late start to the season, often falling behind the competition.
When the regular season kicked off last September, it was Listowel and Stratford that immediately shot to the top, with both teams fighting for the lead ahead of everyone else in the Midwestern Conference. Elmira, meanwhile, found itself sinking in the rankings and until the last week of September, found itself tied with Kitchener in last place with a record of 1-5.
By mid-October, however, the team had started to climb. The Kings began to rack up the wins and put some distance between themselves and last place. They overtook Brantford and Brampton in the standings, but were still behind the major competition: Waterloo, Kitchener, Guelph. Soon enough, though, the Kings found themselves getting ahead of the Guelph, leaving only the three K-W teams in a neck-and-neck race to the finish.
By the second week of November, the Kings were exactly 10-10. It was still a ways off from Listowel, which had pulled to the top of the league with a record of 17-3, but the Kings were nonetheless ahead of Kitchener’s 7-13. The stiffest competition proved to be Waterloo, who was three wins ahead at 13-7.
Fast-forward to December, and the gap between Elmira and Waterloo had near vanished as both teams sought the third-place position. Elmira was trailing behind Waterloo by exactly one win until Elmira finally knotted things up in the final game of 2017, just two days before Christmas.
Returning to the ice in January, Elmira, now rested and refreshed, took the lead from Waterloo, claiming the third-place spot. Waterloo was now trailing Elmira, their positions exactly reversed. But while Waterloo were able to claw back their rank from Elmira a few times over the next few months, the Kings pressed their lead.
By the end of the regular season, the Kings were 29-21, a comfortable distance ahead of Waterloo’s 25-24. However, Elmira was still far behind the second-place Stratford Warriors (37-12-1). Listowel was even further along at 43-7.
That was how the teams looked when they entered the playoffs. The Kings had climbed from last place early in the season to third. They made a clean sweep of the Brampton Bombers in the first round of the playoffs, but it was round number two, against Stratford, that brought events to a head.
On paper, the Warriors looked to be the superior team. Over the regular season, they’d accumulated 12 wins and a tie more than what the Kings had been able to bring. But what the stats don’t show is that over the course of the season, the Kings had improved dramatically in their game, perhaps more than any other team in the league. So when the Kings took down the Warriors after six games in a best-of-seven contest, it was just a matter of showing just how far they had come together as a team.
It was the Listowel Cyclones that put a stop to the Kings success, however, in the final round of the Midwestern Conference playoffs. In a repeat of last year, the Kings were once again facing Listowel for the coveted Cherrey Cup – and just like last year, the cup slipped from their grasp.
The Sugar Kings stood dejectedly on home ice as, for the second year in a row, Listowel hoisted the Cherry Cup above their heads. The Kings were down but not out, and just like in 2017, they once again were heading to the Sutherland series courtesy of the wildcard spot.
Unlike the year before, it was in the Sutherland Cup semi-finals that the Kings’ story ultimately finished. Despite their steak of successes over the year, the Kings were unable to match the Corvaris on the ice, and were swept out.
Now, with the season over, the Kings will be saying goodbye to a lot of players as they age out of the division.
“I loved it here,” says Ryan Takamatsu, one of the team’s top shooters. Takamatsu is studying full-time at Wilfrid Laurier University, where he says he’s hoping to continue playing. “It was a really good experience coming to Elmira. They treat you great here and the fans are awesome, so there wasn’t much more I could ask for. Maybe a win, but other than that it was awesome.”
“It was a great season, a great team, great group of guys,” says Tyler Beauparlant, another soon-to-be Sugar Kings alumnus. Like Takamatsu, Beauparlant is hoping to play for his school team at the University of Waterloo. “Obviously not the outcome we wanted but great memories and I’ll have this for the rest of my life. It was a great experience.”
“I thought the team was excellent at first,” notes Bradon Munn, who joined the team from Guelph in mid-November. “They maybe underachieved for what people thought they were going to do but we definitely surprised a bunch of people in the playoffs. And even though it didn’t end the way we wanted to it was definitely a fun ride. Hopefully Elmira can continue being as promising as it always has.”