No one would have predicted the Elmira Sugar Kings would be the Sutherland Cup winners at the beginning of the season. No one except head coach Geoff Haddaway.
“This is what I envisioned at the end of the year, there was no question. I never said it all year long but this is the outcome I envisioned,” he said following the May 6 win in Niagara Falls that capped a great season for the Junior B hockey club.
Many thought this was a rebuilding season for the Kings after losing some of their veteran players last year. Haddaway sees it differently, noting they kept a lot of great hockey players.
“Look at the great job Josh MacDonald, Brady Campbell and Jonathon Rizzo did, these guys are good hockey players and they just bought in and when you have guys like them buying in you win.”
The Kings claimed the provincial Junior B title with a 4-0 victory over the Niagara Falls Canucks.
After squeaking by the Canucks 4-3 in Elmira the night before, the Kings headed south to the Gale Centre up three games to one in the best-of-seven series.
After a scoreless first period, the Kings potted three goals in under two minutes in the second to seal the deal.
Kings scoring leader Josh MacDonald netted a pair 15 seconds apart, and Andrew Smith would make it three a minute and half later.
“We pulled a little Niagara Falls on them. They gave us a couple of opportunities and we made them pay and when you give guys like Josh MacDonald opportunities, the kid is a special hockey player and he is going to take advantage of those opportunities,” said Haddaway.
“We said all year long no way can any other team competes with us over a seven-game series because no one uses their team like we do. We wore them down. They came out with their best effort in the first period, which was outstanding, but the second and third we just controlled the play,” said Haddaway.
Game-five saw the Kings clog up the middle of the ice while using a lot of board work passes, a style of play that seemed to thwart the Canucks offence as the Kings managed to do something no other team in the playoffs had been able to do against the Canucks: skate away
with a shutout.
“We came in here and everybody was saying Niagara Falls would take it to us, and they did a really good job,” said Kings netminder Nick Horrigan. “But all year everybody counted us out and we have risen to the task, my team did a phenomenal job. We played our asses off, came in and did what we needed to do against a very good hockey team.”
Horrigan turned away all 33 shots the Canucks threw at him.
The third period saw a very desperate Canucks team pulling goalie Cody Vinnai to make it a six-on-five, but that allowed Elmira defender Shane Smith to take control of the puck and send it down the ice for an open net goal, putting the final nail in the Canucks’ coffin.
The Kings were supported by a very vocal and loud cheering section in the stands, cheering every time their team touched the puck.
As the final buzzer blew the Elmira bench cleared heading towards a jubilant Horrigan.
“I don’t think I knew it was our game until the final buzzer went, especially with what happened last night, them coming back in the third making a game like that, you can’t under estimate that team,” said Horrigan.
The victory gave the Kings their first Sutherland Cup championship in 10 years.