© — Star photo by Chris Quigley
IceCaps’ Jason King lays the body on reigning AHL MVP Cory Conacher of the Crunch.
CORNER BROOK Though Jason King and the St. John’s IceCaps came out on the wrong side of a 4-1 score Thursday night at the Pepsi Centre, the loss didn’t dampen the spirits of friends and family who gathered to watch the hometown boy who went pro.
During the second intermission of the American Hockey League exhibition game against the Syracuse Crunch, King’s mother Doreen described how surreal it was to watch her son glide across a Corner Brook ice surface for the first time in years — back in the days when the idea of becoming a professional hockey player was merely a dream.
“Just to see him skate and play again in this stadium is super,” she said. “The last time I saw him play here, he was playing with the (Western) Kings in Triple A. To be able to see him step on that ice again tonight is really, really good.”
She last saw him play with the IceCaps last spring during the AHL playoffs, but even that couldn’t compare to the reality of her son being welcomed home by thousands of supporters.
“To be able to come back to Corner Brook for training camp, I never, ever thought this would happen,” she said. “He never thought it would happen, to be playing in a pro training camp in his home town.
“I expected him to be a little bit nervous when he first came out,” she added. “But he’s playing really well.”
Considering the years King spent plying his trade in Europe, the fact he’s now just a hop, skip and a jump away is almost too good to be true for his mother.
When she first heard about the AHL returning to the province, she admitted the thought of Jason playing for the team crossed her mind immediately.
“He had a great experience in Europe, but when the opportunity came to play in St. John’s, we were thrilled,” she said. “It’s so nice having the grandchildren so close — we’re out there every chance we can get.”
King’s younger sister Ashley Sheppard also watched her brother play in the post-season last year, but hadn’t seen him play a game in Corner Brook since his days as a Western King. As a child, she didn’t always want to spend time in the stands while Jason played, but it grew on her as the years went by.
“As I got older, I liked coming to watch hockey,” she said. “It’s been a big part of our life, it just feels natural to be here.”
She said at times during Thursday night’s game, she’d have to remind herself she was actually watching him in the Pepsi Centre.
“You kind of forget where you are,” she said. “I’m looking around and it’s like, ‘Oh wait, this is Corner Brook.’
“It’s amazing,” she added. “It’s great to see him out on this ice.”
The experience was also positive for King’s friend Jason Bugden, who has watched his buddy play in the National Hockey League with the Vancouver Canucks, in St. John’s with the IceCaps, and now here at his home rink.
The two played minor hockey together growing up here, where Bugden said King’s talents were on display early.
“I got a lot of assists, he got all the goals,” he quipped.
Bugden was impressed with how well King was playing, especially with the added pressure of performing in front of many of his peers.
“It’s pretty awesome for him,” he said. “He must just be flying tonight, being here to play in his hometown.”
The two were only able to text each other during King’s visit so far, since the IceCaps training camp keeps him fairly busy. Bugden wasn’t sure if he’d get the chance to hang out with his old friend, but still knows how much the game at the Pepsi Centre meant to him.
“He was really happy to get to play a game on this ice,” he said.