(KINGSVILLE, ON) – It just wasn’t meant to be. Despite having a great regular season record and completing a first round sweep of the Toronto Attack, the Kingsville Kings could not find a way past the St George Ravens in their Greater Metro Junior A Hockey League division semifinals series.
With all of their momentum, the Kings ran into a physically imposing and dominant Ravens squad that seemed a much more rounded club than what they encountered before, head-to-head, during the season. Although St George did make a couple big acquisitions at the trade deadline, their roster was not dissimilar to their regular season lineup.
“I don’t think that we expected to be swept, but St George played a great series, hats off to them,” said Kings head coach Michael Guzzo.
Kingsville lost the best-of-five series by scores of 7-4, 8-4, and 5-3 respectively.
“Tough way to end the season,” said the coach. “We had a great run at it and great year. Couldn’t be more proud of the boys and the way the played all year.”
Scoring was well spread out during the playoffs. Miroslav Hylena, David Vostarek, Ondrej Tomek, and Andrew Baxter each had four goals in six games, followed by Brendan Borg and Brendan Mackenzie with three each.
LaSalle native Wes Werner finished the playoffs with a record of 3-2, while Windsorite Pierce Dubowski was credited with a loss in two appearances between the pipes.
“I thought we had a pretty solid team moving forward after the deadline. We had some injuries towards the end of the season, but guys stepped up and played hard,” said Guzzo. “There wasn’t a time that we thought we were done or out and that goes to show the character and heart these boys have. We had a team this year that had a lot of skill on both ends of the ice, hardworking players, veterans who played in championships before, newcomers who excelled at the midget level. [A] great group of players with one common goal. We leaned on players who played in the league previously … to try and teach the new players what it takes to be successful in this league, and, overall, I think they did a great job of it.”
After dominating the Southern Division of the GMHL last year, losing only two games through the season en route to a divisional playoff pennant, the Kings came within a game of winning the Russell Cup as league champions.
This year, with the league down from three divisions to two, Kingsville found themselves against stiffer competition with the Ravens, Niagara Whalers, and London Lakers; three teams they dominated during the 2015-16 campaign. The Kings wound up third this year when the playoffs started.
“We had some close games that we lost in OT or a shootout,” said coach Guzzo, looking back at the season that was. “You win a few of those games and you go from third place to second place and get home ice. The players skated hard every game and gave it their all. As a coach, you can’t ask for anything but 100 per cent effort each and every game and they gave that.”
For some Kings, this was their last hurrah.
Michigan native and leading scorer Dan Leach has officially aged out of junior, with the conclusion of the season, as did fellow Michigander Mitchell Krust, Alaska’s Tyler Garcia, and Dutchman Arthur Panchenko.
Leach, a veteran of the inaugural Kings squad, will be sorely missed by his team and community. Leach notched 61 goals and 116 points in 102 total games in Kingsville, playoffs included. Garcia proved to be a dominant scorer in his lone season with the Kings. His 35 goals and 62 points in 42 games created a one-two scoring punch alongside Leach.
Panchenko was a late-season pickup from the departed Lincoln Mavericks and fit in well with Kingsville, putting up 12 points in 19 games, while D-man Krust was in uniform for 18 matches as a King.
“There are really so many things to be proud of this year,” said Guzzo. “I think the most exciting for me was the way the players played and battled hard. Some games people thought we were out and we would come back to win or make it a great game. [My players] just never stopped playing until the buzzer went and that is going to take them far in their careers; either in hockey or not.”
The Kings have nothing to be ashamed of. They win, they draw large crowds, and they are undoubtedly the gold standard when it comes to operations in the GMHL. They are involved in their community and the community has accepted them.
There is no good reason why the Kings will not be the best ticket in town for years to come.