St. John’s IceCaps assistant coach Jason King never made it to a Calder Cup Final as a player, coming up short in the conference finals on three occasions. If the IceCaps claim the title this year, King will be just the sixth Newfoundlander to have his name on the Calder Cup.
©— Telegram file photo
Jason King reached the American Hockey League’s conference finals three times during a very tidy, if not underrated, professional hockey career, coming up short of a Calder Cup final appearance each time.
He’s hoping the fourth time’s a charm, even if it means winning as a coach rather than player.
King is the St. John’s IceCaps’ eye in the sky, a coach on the ice in practice but perched in the press box during games after he was forced to bid goodbye to an 11-year pro career last summer because of lingering concussion issues.
The Corner Brook native is hoping to become only the sixth Newfoundlander to win the AHL championship, joining Brian Gibbons of St. John’s (1970-71 Springfield Kings), Don Howse of Grand Falls (1975-76 and 1976-77 Nova Scotia Voyageurs), Jason Morgan of C.B.S. (2000-01 Saint John Flames), John Slaney of St. John’s (2004-05 Philadelphia Phantoms) and Colin Greening of St. John’s (2010-11 Binghamton Senators).
“For sure, you always want an opportunity to win as a player,” King said Monday, on the eve of Game 2 of the IceCaps-Texas Stars final, which saw the home team grab a 1-0 lead Sunday night with a 6-3 win.
“For me, it just never happened. Health-wise, it wasn’t there. I couldn’t do it. But to still be part of it, to have a chance to win, to get this opportunity from Zinger (St. John’s GM Craig Heisinger) and Keith (IceCaps coach Keith McCambridge) and Chevy (Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff), it means the most to me.”
King’s Halifax Mooseheads played host to the Memorial Cup Canadian junior hockey championship his first season of junior, but came up short. He reached the AHL’s conference finals with the Manitoba Moose, Portland Pirates and two years ago with the IceCaps — their first season in the AHL — but also came away empty handed.
He finished his career with 253 career AHL points in 335 games, and 12 goals and 23 points in 59 NHL games with the Vancouver Canucks and Anaheim Ducks.
King is excited — as excited as this quiet, calm 32-year-old is ever going to get — with the prospects of winning this season, despite the fact things are definitely different.
He’s no longer hanging out in the dressing room. He rides up front on the plane and on the bus, and goes for supper with the coaches.
His days as a player are over in every which way.
“Yes, it’s different for sure, but your mentality doesn’t change,” he said. “The excitement is still there.
“I haven’t thought about retirement at all this season because I love what I’m doing. Yes, the playoff hockey is something you miss — it’s why you play the game. You can’t describe the excitement you see in the room every day, amongst the players and the coaching staff and the trainers. It’s a part of the game that I miss the most.
“But at the same time, it’s just as exciting when you’re part of the coaching staff, if not moreso, because you see everything develop from start to finish, you see the excitement in the guys. It’s been a fun ride.”
Of course, King isn’t the only St. John’s coach who made the transition from player to coach. McCambridge was a journeyman minor leaguer for 11 years and fellow assistant Mark Morrison played 10 games for the New York Rangers, a bit in the minors before enjoying a lengthy stint overseas, mostly in Great Britain. And goalie coach Dusty Imoo played major junior hockey, a tad in the minors and seven years in Japan.
“It’s obviously different as a player, but at the same time, you still have the same camaraderie within the (coaching) staff,” King said. “We’re a tight group. It makes it fun.
“It’s a change, but it’s been an easy transition. I’ve tried to move in as best I could and help out where I can. Keith and Mo have a lot of experience and they’ve helped me along the way with everything.
“It’s been fun to be part of it.”