A strong season that included finishing atop the Midwestern Conference came to an end May 12 when the Elmira Sugar Kings lost 4-1 to the Cambridge Redhawks, the same tally as the best-of-seven series.
The Kings swept through the Brantford Bandits in the first round of the GOJHL playoffs, then defeated the Stratford Warriors in six games. But after winning the first game of the Cambridge series, the Kings lost the next four.
“The better team won that series,” said head coach Rob Collins. “They made some good adjustments – I let the [Cambridge] coach know that too. They were well prepared, and they earned it. They were the better team that series, no doubt about it.”
Still, it was a good year for the Kings, who finished first in the conference with a record of 35-11-1-1, three points ahead of the Redhawks.
“I think we were, in preseason, picked to finish fourth or fifth, somewhere in there,” said Collins. “So for them to accomplish a regular-season championship and make it to the finals, not to mention setting a lot of franchise records along the way, it was a successful year.
“There were a lot of positives to draw from it, that’s for certain. We obviously came up short of the ultimate goal, but I would say it was successful.”
There are some exit interviews and a banquet ahead to wrap up this season, but Collins already has an eye on next year. The regular season and playoffs were great experience for those players who’ll be returning for 2022-23, he notes.
What that roster will look like remains a big unknown at this point, of course.
The Kings already know they’ll be saying goodbye to Kurtis Goodwin, Nathaniel Mott and Jack Tos, who’ve now aged out of Junior B hockey. Experience tells them some of the guys they’re expecting to see will opt for other choices.
“There’ll be someone not coming back, unforeseen. That seems to be a common theme every summer that someone you’re expecting to come back decided not to come back or to go elsewhere,” said Collins. “And then there’ll be someone who surprises at training camp that might earn themselves a spot.”
In that vein, the team had plenty of opportunities to check out potential future additions in the form of local minor hockey players – the Kings had many call-ups this season due to injuries and other factors.
“We liked all the guys we called up – they all did a great job. There was a lot of them, though, that’s for sure,” said Collins.
The coach is looking forward to some reflection on the season that was, and then moving ahead with plans for the next one. The success of the hockey team is just part of the equation, he adds, stressing the importance of helping the players develop not only their hockey skills but themselves as people.
“I originally got into this to pay it forward, so I’m going to stay that way. If I can help kids and be a springboard for them just to become better versions of themselves, whether it be as a person or a hockey player, then that’s what I’m in it for.
“For me personally, just to see growth in them, to recognize the growth in themselves and to know that I had a little part of that, that’s the gratification I’m looking for.”