This late into the Junior B season, it’s not usual to see teams make tweaks and revisions to their rosters, in search of the game-winning combination. But, the Elmira Sugar Kings seemed to signal a much more drastic shake-up this week on the bench with the removal of head coach Trent Brown from the team.
“I was actually fired from the head coach position last night (Monday),” said Brown. With just under 20 games left in the season, the decision came as a surprise to Brown, who had been on the team’s coaching staff since 2013.
“I mean, we’re seven points out of first place, with two games in hand on them and I think we were doing alright. But they wanted to make a change and some guys weren’t happy I guess, so here we are.”
“It’s always really hard firing a coach, but I think especially for me,” said director of hockey operations Jeff Snyder. “Trent’s a friend of mine and has been a good friend of mine for four years – we’ve been working here in Elmira together. We just felt our team wasn’t progressing in the direction that we needed it to be, and we felt we had no other choice but to make a change to try and get our team playing a little better.”
The decision came after a weekend that saw the Kings fall for the first time to Listowel Cyclones in a 5-1 decision, and fail to break a 3-3 tie with the second-last place Brantford 99ers – another first for the Elmira team. Picking up just one of the four points on offer, the result saw the Kings fall to fourth place with 42 points, behind the second-place Cyclones, which inched ahead by two points to 47 courtesy of the win.
“We felt all along that we had a pretty good team in Elmira, and a chance to be [contender] for the top of the standings,” said Snyder. “And we’re still not that far off. But just kind of the way – and especially the way we played in the last few games, we didn’t play very well in Listowel Friday night and played even worse on Sunday. Just kind of saw some signs there that our team wasn’t going in the direction that we wanted it to.”
Brown joined the coaching staff in the 2013-14 season. In 2016-17 he served as assistant coach during the team’s 2016-17 Sutherland Cup winning series, and starting in 2017-18 was promoted to take over as head coach. Under Brown’s new leadership last season, the team struggled initially during the regular season before going on to advance substantially in the playoffs. The team ultimately was forced to relinquish the crown after being knocked out in the series semi-finals against Caledonia.
“Last year was the first year Trent was the head coach, and I think he’d be the first to agree there’s a learning curve there,” said Snyder of Brown’s performance in the job. “But we thought we’d try to help him with that; we talked a bit over the summer on maybe trying to do things a little different, and I think he tried to do that and learned from that. I think he was improving.”
However, Snyder notes that the team’s performance this season has been spotty, even with addition of new players to the roster this month.
“You see signs as you’re going out through the year on how your team is going. And we’ve been concerned about some of those signs; we’ve talked about them as a management staff, as coach and managers together,” said Snyder.
Currently, Elmira is just seven points behind the Midestern Conference-leading Waterloo Siskins. The team has had a strong record against most of the teams in the league, including against the Siskins with three wins and a loss, but has consistently struggled against both the third-place Stratford Warriors and fifth-place Kitchener Dutchmen.
Taking over the position from Brown for the remainder of the season will be assistant coach Rob Collins.
Snyder wasn’t too concerned the sudden change could adversely affect the team’s performance at this point. He’s positive about the coach’s impact on the team.
Brown, too, was positive about the team’s prospects heading into the final leg of the season, though was disappointed he would not be able to continue along with them.
“I’m obviously disappointed and frustrated. The Elmira Sugar Kings were a very big part of my life. I played there and met my wife when I was playing there, and was fortunate enough to be on some good teams. And I took a lot of pride being a part of that organization. Nothing but good things to say about everything in that organization,” he said.
“They’ve done a lot for the players and for the town, I think it’s a great place to play and place to be and I obviously want to be a part of it, and not being able to for the first time in, well, six years I guess, it is tough. It sucks. I wish I could have been a part of the solution, but it’s not in the cards.”