It’ll be uncharted territory for members of the Elmira Sugar Kings this year when they start the regular season as the defending Ontario Junior B champions for the first time in a decade.
The Kings opened their season last night (Friday) in Owen Sound to take on the Greys and take to the ice tomorrow (Sunday) in their home-opener, an afternoon tilt against the Listowel Cyclones at 2 p.m. at the Dan Snyder arena.
After a grueling preseason schedule that saw the team play five games in nine nights, head coach Dean DeSilva is ready to get the season underway, his first behind the Elmira bench.
“I can’t wait to get the season started. Training camp is always tough but I’m really pleased. I’m looking forward to getting started,” he said.
“We do have some work to do still, but overall I’m really happy with where we’re starting the season.”
The team features a good mixture of first-year and returning players. In goal, fans will recognize Nick Horrigan who is entering his third season with the team. He will be joined by newcomer Nick Coone from Cambridge.
Hopefully that tandem can provide some stability in goal because the defence has witnessed a lot of turnover.
Gone are Shane Smith and Jordan Benton, along with Cory Genovese and all-star Wade Pfeffer. Only two defenders from last year’s squad – new captain Colton Wolfe-Sabo and second-year player Clayton Greer – are back, and they will be called on to be a steadying presence for the young core of blueliners, DeSilva said.
“We’re still pretty young at the back end and we haven’t even started working on any systems or anything,” said DeSilva, stressing the importance of maintaining good defensive presence in the zone and making a good first pass to start the offence.
Getting the puck to the forwards will be critical, because that is where the Kings should really shine. With the return of six Kings from last season, including leading scorer Lukas Baleshta and rookie of the year Brady Campbell, as well as former King Riley Sonnenberg who suited up for the Guelph Storm of the OHL last year, putting the puck in the net shouldn’t be Elmira’s primary concern this season after finishing fourth in the conference last year with 219 goals.
“We have a lot of offensive players and I’m going to give them full room for creativity,” said DeSilva.
Sunday’s home opener will have some extra flair as the Kings will raise their Sutherland Cup champion banner and present last year’s team with their championship rings, something the head coach knows will likely distract many of his players leading up to their Cherrey Cup finals rematch with the Cyclones.
“It’s going to be tough for our guys to focus, there is going to be a lot going on and it could provide some motivation for Listowel, so we have to be ready for that and I think if we can get through the first period of the game relatively unscathed we should be alright.”
The puck drops at 2 p.m. but fans should get there early for the pre-game festivities.