With the Elmira Sugar Kings looking to repeat as Sutherland Cup champions it will take a lot from both the players and coaches to get a team to the championship game. But there are those behind the scene that contribute to the cause.
Brothers Matthew and Justin Uhrig are just two of the Sugar Kings staff that keeps the team ready to hit the ice night after night at the Dan Snyder Memorial Arena.
You may have seen the two St. Barnabas School students running through the arena, dressed in their green jumpsuits usually carrying a bunch of hockey sticks or water bottles for the players.
Arriving an hour before game time, the two boys prepare for the night by ensuring each player’s sweater is in their locker along with all their gear. They then begin to move the hockey sticks from the locker room to the team’s bench.
“They are pretty amazing little guys. When I was their age I definitely did not sacrifice my nights and weekends coming out to help a bunch of smelly hockey players. They do a lot for us, and without them was would be lost in the locker room,” said Kings’ goalie Nick Horrigan.
There is still more for the two boys to accomplish before the team hits the ice for its warm-up skate. Justin and Matthew will be making sure there is enough water for each team member and all those pucks used during the warm-up have to be collected. The boys know exactly what to do and where to go.
The brothers attend practices as well, coming out to the arena three times a week as they look to help the team in any way they can.
“They are the heart and soul of the team and we couldn’t do this without them. They are kind of the backbone of the team and hold our team together. They are always there and do a great job for all of us,” said Kings’ captain Colton Wolfe-Sabo.
The boys enjoy sharing their time with the players and are always looking forward to some of the hijinks that occur in the locker rooms.
“They are always really nice to us but sometimes they tease us and that is a lot of fun too,” said 12-year-old Matthew, who has one year left with the Kings before he becomes to old to be a stick boy.
This is the first year Justin, 11, has been working with the team; he’s learning the ropes from his older brother, occasionally looking to him for help during his “rookie” year.
“He has helped me out a lot over the last few months. I saw how much fun he had last year and I really wanted to be a part of that: he asked the coaches if it would be OK and they said I could come out to a practice and see what it is all about,” said Justin.
The experience of working together has built a real bond between the brothers, who stand up for each other when the players start teasing them just a little too much.
“Will Cooke and Andrew Smith can really get on our case sometimes, but we know it is just for fun and they are never really mean to us: they are just making us one of the team,” said Matthew.
The two brothers have big dreams of one day of lacing up for the Kings themselves. They’ve played hockey with some of the players, who give them tips and show them how the big boys really play.
“They are two of the greatest guys you will ever meet. I have spent time with them outside the arena, playing at their house and we all get along great. Without them I am not sure we would function, they do everything for us. We can just focus on playing hockey – they make everything easier,” said Smith.