Final buzzer sounds on King's playing career

Robin
Robin Short
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But concussion problems won't keep him away from the game; he's signed on to become an assistant coach with the IceCaps

Not every hockey player can be as lucky as Lanny McDonald, closing out his career with 500 goals, not to mention scoring in the Stanley Cup-clinching game.

In a perfect world, Jason King would have skated off the Mile One Centre ice last spring holding the Calder Cup Trophy, celebrating St. John’s first AHL championship.

But few things in this life are perfect.

King’s season ended last November, actually, and the St. John’s IceCaps missed the playoffs, making it 16 years and counting as St. John’s awaits to celebrate its first pro hockey title.

And now, on a miserable, rainy late-August Friday, King announced he had come to grips what many of us had figured for some time — a head injury has claimed the soon-to-be 32-year-old’s professional hockey playing career.

“Towards the end of the year (last season), I realized the potential of not playing again was there,” King said outside the IceCaps’ dressing room.

 “It’s one of those days you hate to see come, but we all know as hockey players it has to come to an end at some point.

“I knew if I couldn’t get back and compete at 100 per cent, it was a no-brainer.”

The Corner Brook product was limited to only nine games last season, the victim of a concussion suffered in November, coming in the most harmless of ways when he collided with a teammate in the pre-game skate.

It was the second concussion of his career, the first occurring when he toiled for the Manitoba Moose eight years ago.

In late March, with about a dozen games to go in the regular season, King accompanied the IceCaps on a road trip through New England and upstate New York.

“I made every attempt to get back,” he said. “I felt good condition-wise, but wasn’t quite there head-wise, so the decision was made to shut it down.

“At that point, I was nervous. I was hoping things would improve over the summer, but they didn’t. The writing was on the wall.”

In many ways, however, King is lucky. He finishes his playing days where it all started, in his home province. And he embarks on a new career, joining Mark Morrison and Ian Andersen as an assistant coach on Keith McCambridge’s staff, armed with a new two-year contract.

While closing out his career at home was special to King, nothing compares to his stint in the NHL, 59 games in total, 55 with the Vancouver Canucks and the other handful in Anaheim with the Mighty Ducks.

Of course, King recalls that special season in 2003-04, when he scored 12 goals and nine assists in 47 games. He was the NHL’s rookie of the month for November, beating out, among others, Eric Staal of the Carolina Hurricanes.

In the Canucks’ first regular-season game that season, against the Calgary Flames in Vancouver, King converted a backdoor pass from Henrik Sedin past Roman Turek for his first NHL tally.

“It was one of those nights that you still get goosebumps thinking about,” he said.

“As a kid, you dream about playing in the NHL. Every kid does. You probably don’t really think about it at the time when you’re playing, but now when it’s all said and done, you realize the small percentage of hockey players who reach that level, and how special it was.”

King spent four seasons with the Moose, the team which eventually morphed into the IceCaps. Given his two years in St. John’s, that’s six seasons he’s worked under Craig Heisinger and those now in charge of the Jets’ organization.

See McCambridge, page B3

But don’t mistake his new career as an assistant coach as some sort of post-career reward, a paycheque for the next two years until he figures out what to do next in his life.

“This is not a position made up to keep Jason King in the organization,” McCambridge says. “This is a position that Jason King has earned, based on who he is and what he represents.

“I really feel when you look to hire assistant coaches, you look at two things: can they help develop players for the next level, and can they help you gain points in the standings? For me, King checks off on both of those.”

King admits he’s thought about getting into the coaching business for some time. Even these past couple of seasons in St. John’s, he was seen as a dressing-room leader, a conduit between the younger players and the coaching staff.

That was never more evident than two years ago when the IceCaps lost captain Jason Jaffray to a neck injury, and King stepped up to take his place in the dressing room.

“I’ve always taken pride in being a mentor and leader in the room,” he said. “Now, I’ll carry it over into coaching. I can be that link between the young guys and the coaching staff, that guy they come to and talk to.

“I foresee myself making a career out of this. For me, it’s the excitement of coming to the rink every day. Going to the rink is what got me out of bed every day. I love the game. I started playing when I was four, so this would be 28 years playing hockey. It’s hard to push that aside.

“But to be involved on the other side of the game is still really exciting. I can’t wait.”

Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email rshort@thetelegram.com or follow on Twitter @telyrobinshort

Organizations: IceCaps, NHL, Vancouver Canucks Manitoba Moose Calgary Flames Jets

Geographic location: Corner Brook, New England, New York Anaheim Vancouver

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