CORNER BROOK Friday will mark the beginning of what might be the only show in town, hockey-wise, this year for Corner Brook.
With the birth of the Western Royals, playing out of Deer Lake, the uncertainity of a local junior league team and the seeming inevitability of a National Hockey League lockout, anyone looking for their hockey fix may choose to focus on the Provincial Major Midget Hockey League’s Western Kings.
The league’s pre-season kick-off tournament will be held this weekend at the Kinsmen Arena II, as the Kings play host to the St. John’s Privateers, St. John’s Maple Leafs, TriPen Lions and Central IcePak.
At 10-16-0-1, the Kings were third place in the five-team setup last season, but a full roster of 26 players — including six new players and only one player missing from last year’s team — fuels hope for growth this season.
Angus Head returns as coach, with the help of Steve Borden and Jeff Murphy. The group were on the ice Wednesday night, preparing for the pre-season tournament.
One of the returning players is defenceman Lucas McKay of Deer Lake. The 16-year-old son of Jamie and Karen didn’t begin his young hockey career until second-year atom, as a forward, but quickly developed into a blue-liner any major midget team could use.
He wasn’t sure he would make the cut again this year, but his previous experience meant he was a must-have.
“There are a lot of good players trying out,” McKay said. “But I was hoping to be back.”
McKay believes last year’s group did well, considering they had some roster issues, but a heavy sweat was the catalyst for anything they accomplished. That shouldn’t change this season.
“I think we’ve got a good team this year,” he said. “We’ve just got to work hard and keep putting pucks on net.”
Goalscoring was an issue for the Kings last year, with a next-to-last total of 92 over 27 games — compared to 203 for the defending league champion Privateers.
“We got the job done for the most part,” McKay said. “I think we’ll be better this year.”
For 15-year-old Ryan Gillam, this will be his first campaign as a King. The son of Tammy and Lenny of Corner Brook, the towering Gillam has been playing puck since he was five.
He’s been a defenceman for as long as he can remember and wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s a big part of the game,” he said. “It feels good to help out your goalie and just be solid back there.”
A self-described stay-at-home defenceman, Gillam was excited to learn he’d made the team as a first-year player.
“I knew there was a lot of stronger guys, older guys out there,” he said. “I was hoping for it.”
Gillam watched a few Kings games last year, which at least gives him a vague familiarity with the league.
“It seems like good hockey,” he said. “I can’t wait to start playing.”
His wait ends this weekend, but McKay is hoping there’ll be someone to replace guys like Gillam in the stands.
“I hope we get some people out to watch, I think we will,” he said. “Having a crowd just makes the game more intense. The noise gives you more energy.”
The kick-off tournament begins Friday and wraps up Sunday. There’s no playoff format, the team with the best record at the end of the three-day slate of games claims bragging rights.
Until the real season begins, that is.
For a full tournament schedule, see the Scoreboard in Thursday's edition of The Western Star.