Assistant coach Jason King, right, is shown on the ice with the St. John’s IceCaps in this undated photo. — Telegram file photo
ST. JOHN’S — If Jason King was 100 per cent healthy, he’d still be playing hockey professionally.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case — yet King still counts himself a fortunate one.
“I’m pretty lucky to be in the situation I’m in,” he said.
Concussions derailed his playing career, forcing him to retire just nine games into his second season with the American Hockey League’s St. John’s IceCaps. The team then offered the Corner Brook native an opportunity to stay in the game, making him an assistant coach.
“First and foremost, your health has to be No. 1,” King said in a recent interview. “When you finally wrap your head around that it’s all said and done, it’s a tough decision to get to, but I had to make it and I don’t regret it.
“As much as I loved playing, I’m still involved and I love what I’m doing now just as much.”
Still, when the legs start burning and the heart begins to pound during a team practice, King is offered a stark reminder as to why he’s no longer able to compete.
Without getting into specifics, he said he still experiences post-concussion symptoms, which he knows may never entirely go away.
“On the ice with the guys, if you over-exert yourself, there’s still some things that will reoccur a bit,” he said. “They’re minor and they’re liveable ... hopefully they’ll subside, but you never know.
“That’s kind of the gamble when you play the game,” he added. “Injuries are a big factor, but all in all, I’m happy where I’m at.”
The other side
His coaching career is an ongoing learning process. King said he’s gained a new respect for those who instructed him throughout the years.
“You see how much time and effort goes in on the other side of things,” he said.
At the beginning of the season, he had no idea what to expect in his new role, or if he’d even actually enjoy it.
He’s grown more comfortable in the position, and his responsibilities are greater than they were when the season first started. He said IceCaps head coach Keith McCambridge and fellow assistant Mark Morrison have been “fantastic” with showing him the tricks of the trade.
At this point, he believes coaching is his calling and said being a head coach someday has become his ultimate goal.
“For me it’s just taking it day by day,” he said. “Trying to learn as much and take as much in as I go.”
In the team’s first year of existence, the 2011-12 campaign, the IceCaps were a pleasant surprise, finishing atop the Atlantic Division and making it all the way to the third round of the playoffs. Last year, the club fell off a cliff, winding up fifth in their division and on the outside of the post-season looking in.
It’s been so far, so good this season. The team is third in its division with an 19-15-1-2 record and 41 points and consists of players who work for one another, King said, which gives them a chance to win every night.
“I’m sure there are a lot of things we can improve on, but right now we’re in the hunt,” he said. “Hopefully we can put together a good second half here.”
As an assistant coach, King works mainly with younger players. Being so fresh out of the game, he has the ability to help them adjust to the AHL level and exude the professionalism that accompanies that status. He also helps out on the skill development side, running video presentations and pointing out the intangibles that players can improve on to help win hockey games.
“I help out where I can,” he said. “Every aspect has been fun to learn.”
Even since the holiday break, which he spent in St. John’s with family, King said he feels he’s turned a coaching corner.
“There’s a good month or two where you need to get your feet wet and understand things,” he said. “I found, especially since Christmas, you get a little more confident in what you’re doing and what you’re teaching.
“Hopefully that only grows from here.”
The IceCaps next game will be a tough test, as they entertain the league-leading Manchester Monarchs 7:30 p.m. Friday at Mile One Centre.