In a team sport, it’s always tough to single out individuals, but that’s what’s required of the coaching staff of the Elmira Sugar Kings at the end of every season.
The Kings held their award banquet last weekend, celebrating a season that finished better than most expected and honouring a handful of players for their individual contributions.
“It’s always tough selecting them,” said head coach Geoff Haddaway. “It just goes so much against the grain of everything they’ve been taught – not just by us, but by their Bantam and Midget and Novice coaches, that it’s a team game.”
One award that doesn’t require any debate is the Elmira Insurance Agencies trophy, which is presented to the team’s top scorer. This year, the award went to Riley Sonnenburg, who had 20 goals and 26 assists during the regular season.
Sonnenburg also received the Sugar Kings’ alumni award for the playoff MVP. That award takes points into consideration, but also reflects a players’ overall contribution during the postseason. With seven goals and eight assists, Sonnenburg averaged more than a point a game and made a significant contribution on the ice.
“He was over a point a game, and it’s tougher to get points in the playoffs,” Haddaway said. “I thought he took his game to another level in the playoffs.”
Blueliner Jon Jutzi received the James Austin memorial trophy for top defenceman, an award that came as no surprise given that he was named the league’s best defenceman earlier this year. Jutzi, who notched 13 goals and 20 assists during the season, was also named the regular season MVP.
“From game one right to the end of the season, he was just the most consistent performer,” Haddaway said. “He’s a first-unit power play, first unit penalty kill and logs probably 25 to 30 minutes of ice time a game, and no one else did that.”
Jutzi wasn’t on hand to pick up his hardware; he played in the U20 Three Nations tournament in Sweden this week, and on Sunday he was en route to Stockholm.
Jarred Parent was named best defensive forward and also received the coaches’ cup for perseverance and dedication to hockey. Haddaway noted that Parent was someone the team counted on defensively, both on the penalty kill and on five-on-five.
“He always assumed the correct defensive position; he was always on the defensive side of the puck. That’s playing to his strengths,” the coach said. “Jarred just goes about his business and plays hard every single shift.”
Understated blueliner Shane Smith received the Don Duke Memorial trophy for sportsmanship and leadership. While not a top point-getter, Smith delivered big hits at key moments and lead by example on the ice.
Ryan Johnston, a newcomer who joined the team from Sudbury, was presented with the Elmira Sports trophy for rookie of the year.
West Montrose native Lukas Baleshta earned the Dave Uberig Memorial trophy for the top local minor hockey grad. A big, physical player, Baleshta improved over the season and made a significant contribution during the playoffs with three goals and nine assists.
For the second year in a row, team captain Jeff Zippel received the award of excellence for best combining academics and hockey. Zippel and assistant captain Michael Therrien were also presented with team rings, as both players are graduating out of junior hockey.
Zippel was presented with his ring by his father Jamie, who also played for the Elmira Sugar Kings. It was a special moment for the younger Zippel, who played four years with the Kings and finished his junior hockey career as captain of his hometown team.
“I think the best leadership he provided was his passion – not only his passion for hockey, but his passion for the Elmira Sugar Kings,” Haddaway said. “What a unique experience for a young man, to not only play for his hometown team but to be the captain, and it meant everything to him.”