Jason King moves up ice with the play during the St. John’s IceCaps pre-season AHL game against the Norfolk Admirals Sunday at Mile One Centre. After three seasons of pro hockey in Europe, King is eager to make his mark on the North American game. — Photo by Gary Hebbard/The Telegram
In the third period of Sunday afternoon’s American Hockey League friendly between the homestanding St. John’s IceCaps and Norfolk Admirals, the IceCaps’ Jason King sped down the right side of the ice and was met with a hard check along the boards by the Admirals’ Mark Barberio.
In terms of highlight-reel stuff, this was nothing to write home about. But it was, nonetheless, a good clean hit.
King was knocked off his skates, but climbed to his feet and scampered back into the play. Pretty routine stuff, except when you’re Jason King, people tend to keep a closer eye to these things.
It’s because part of King’s story involves a serious concussion, one that cost him parts of two seasons a half dozen years ago while he was toiling with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose.
In a March, 2005 game against Rochester, the Corner Brook native was clocked in an open ice hit by the Americans’ Doug Janik.
The injury kept him shelved for the remainder of the season and playoffs, and it wasn’t until the mid-way point of the 2005-06 campaign did he resume playing.
So when Barberio hit King Sunday at Mile One Centre, routine as it was, the curiosity factor was ratcheted up a bit as fans — the few who turned out Sunday — watched to see how King would react.
“It’s been great, no problems,” King reported when asked if there’s been any lingering after-effects following the hit to the noggin years ago. “I knew I was ready to come back (to North America) because things have been great the past number of years.
“I’ve gotten my bell rung quite a few times since then, and there’s been no side affects.”
That’s got to be good news to the IceCaps, who will be looking to King, who turns 30 this month, as one of the team’s go-to players in their inaugural season in St. John’s.
Sunday’s game, a 5-2 decision by the Admirals, winners of a best-of-three exhibition series with St. John’s and the coveted Mary Brown’s Cup, was the first for King in St. John’s since his days as an AHL player in the early part of the decade.
And prior to that, he hadn’t played hockey in the capital since travelling in with Corner Brook as a minor hockey player.
While King may be relatively new to the city, he’s well in tune with the organization. The IceCaps were once the Moose, before the franchise was transferred from Manitoba to St. John’s over the summer.
“If any other team had approached me, I would have had a second thought, but knowing the people who are running this place made it a lot easier (signing with St. John’s),” said King.
“They’re going to put this team in the right direction, no question.”
The high-scoring right-winger spent the past three seasons in Germany, toiling for Mannheim and Hamburg. He had played only five pro seasons in North America before opting to head overseas.
In his second year as a pro, 2003-04, King appeared in 47 games with the Vancouver Canucks. He was named the NHL's rookie of the month for November and finished the campaign with 12 goals and 21 points.
The next year, the final one of his entry level contract, King suffered the concussion.
The Canucks offered only one year on the new deal, and King signed on the dotted line. By the end of the 2005-06 season, in which King appeared in only 36 games as he made his way back from the disabled list, Vancouver expressed concern through their newest contract offer.
It was a two-way deal, but the money at the AHL level wasn’t exactly what King had in mind.
“We weren’t being selfish,” said King of himself and his agent, Anton Thun. “We just didn’t think it was fair at the time.
“I saw the writing on the wall that I wasn’t in their plans. I took that to heart and made my decision to go to Europe.”
So King headed to Sweden, where he suited up for Skelleftea for the 2006-07 season.
Following that year, King yearned to return to North America and another crack at the NHL. The door opened when his rights were dealt to the Anaheim Ducks, and he signed a one-year contract.
Yet despite the fact the Ducks were coached by his former boss in Manitoba, Randy Carlyle, King made only four appearances in Anaheim, and otherwise spent his year in Portland of the AHL.
So the next season, it was off to Germany where he expected to remain.
The IceCaps, looking for some offence (he’s fourth on Manitoba’s all-time goal scoring list with 77) and, no doubt, some local flavour (ironically enough, another Corner Brooker, Todd Gillingham, was in the lineup in the first year of the old St. John’s Maple Leafs), approached King in August. And the player took all of about 10 seconds to make a decision.
“It was a no-brainer,” he said. “My ultimate dream was always to get back to North America, and St. John’s was a good fit from every angle.”
It’s a different pro game to which King is returning. The game — from the NHL level to the minors — has opened up to allow the skill players to do their thing. And at the AHL level, the emphasis has switched to development, meaning there are fewer veteran players dotting the rosters.
But perhaps the biggest adjustment facing King is the return to the North American game in the smaller North American rinks.
On the this side of the Atlantic, he said, the play happens that much quicker. The bigger ice in Europe allows players, he said, more time to make decisions.
“So it’s going to take time to get your timing,” he said. “I felt a little better tonight than I did in my last game in Grand Falls (Thursday), and that all comes with time.
“Some of my best years were in the AHL, and I really enjoy this league. My game will get back to where I want it to be.”
King has signed for only one year, and it’s an AHL deal. Should the Jets wish to recall him, the team would have to sign King to an NHL contract.
In other organizations, the chances of that happening would be slim and none. But the Jets have contended they will reward players with recall if they deserve a promotion regardless of contract status, or where the player was selected in the draft.
As IceCaps general manager Craig Heisinger says, the decisions for recall will be easy, as the players will be making decisions based on their play.
“That message has been relayed to everybody, and it’s something I really respect with this organization,” King said.
“The guys who deserve to play are going to play. There’s no behind-the-scenes games with these guys. It is what it is and that’s what I really like.
“I want to get back up in the big leagues again, and hopefully I can do so through the IceCaps.”