The Elmira Sugar Kings went winless through their first three preseason games, but the coaching staff is encouraged by the compete level the players have shown.
“It’s been good so far,” head coach Jeff Flanagan said. “I think we have worked hard in each game, but we’ve been a bit up and down. Some guys are playing with new players and I know some of our older guys have been frustrated with their own play, thinking they should have capitalized on some of their chances that didn’t go in. But overall I think we’ve seen lots of good things from our guys and we’ve got good reads on players that we needed to release or that we wanted to stay on with us in camp.”
Right now, the club is carrying 14 forwards, eight defensemen and three goalies in camp, including four players currently skating with Ontario Hockey league teams in their training camps. That number will be pared down to a final roster of either 22 or 21 players by the end of the weekend, Flanagan said.
Then, focused preparations for the regular season, which begins September 12 in London against St. Catharines, start in earnest.
“We have only had one practice where we have done system work and teaching work, so that being considered I think we’ve done pretty well (in preseason play) so far,” Flanagan said. “That being said, we play again Saturday at Cambridge and that will be our last exhibition game and then we’ll have two good weeks of practice before the regular season.”
With plenty of new players joining the organization after last year’s Cherrey Cup win, Flanagan and his staff will be focusing on shoring up the back end before the season starts.
“Defensive zone is always the first thing that we identify as the main component to work on early,” he said. “I think that’s a standard thing, although some coaches may do things differently, but the way that we run our program is with the mindset that defense creates great offense. So we want to make sure that we can keep the puck out of our net and get possession back quick so that we can get back on the offensive.”
The blue line will look very different this season, with the departure of stalwarts like Brodie Whitehead, Adam Brubacher, and Mac Clutsam among others.
But Flanagan is confident the coaching staff will be able to instill a system that will work for this year’s group.
“There are a lot of new guys and younger guys who are all coming from different experiences and different types of coaches, and it will take a while to get everybody on the same wavelength in terms of how we do things and what is expected of them on the ice in different situations,” he said. “But certainly the defensive zone will be our main focus over the next few days.”
The Kings lost 6-2 on the road in Listowel August 28, and fell 2-1 at home to Cambridge on August 30. Then, on September 1, the Cyclones came into town and topped Elmira 3-2. The Kings finish up their preseason schedule Saturday in Cambridge against the Winter Hawks.