With the start of the Newfoundland Senior Hockey League playoffs just days away, the Western Royals are suddenly without a coach and a captain.
Head coach Ed Kearsey resigned from his position on Sunday afternoon, following a discussion with team president Ross Coates.
“Management of the Royals and I don’t see eye to eye on decisions regarding the team,” Kearsey said. “I want to thank them for the opportunity to coach and I wish them best of luck going forward.”
Coates essentially echoed those comments.
“I respect Eddie’s decision to the fullest, I respect Eddie,” he said. “It was just a situation where he felt one way and I felt another.
“What the difference of opinion was is irrelevant,” he added. “He decided to move on and we’ve got to do the same thing.”
On Monday morning, the club officially cut ties with captain Nathan Saunders. The six-foot-three, 228-pound blue-liner from Prince Edward Island suited up for 21 games this season, recording 61 penalty minutes, but no points.
Coates said the move was based on management’s dissatisfaction with Saunders, both on the ice and in the locker room.
“You bring someone in to be one of your top guys and, from our point of view, we didn’t think he was,” Coates said. “We didn’t feel Nathan was one of our leaders, that was part of it, but mostly just personal reasons.”
The Royals president believes the team’s leadership core and defensive depth are both strong enough to overcome the absence of Saunders.
When asked if the situations with Saunders and Kearsey were in any way connected, Coates replied, “Possibly.”
Kearsey stepped in as coach of the Royals after Ben Fitzgerald resigned from the job during the 2012-13 campaign. The team finished the 2013-14 regular season with an 11-10-3 record under Kearsey, good enough for second place in the three-team West Division.
The club hosts the Gander Flyers for the first two games of a best-of-five West semifinal series at the Hodder Memorial Recreation Complex at 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday.
Coates hadn’t finalized a replacement for Kearsey as of Monday night, but said he expected to make an announcement soon. Once a coach is back in place, a new captain will be named.
He acknowledges the timing of these moves, on the brink of the post-season, is unfortunate.
“It is, obviously, very, very, very much so,” he said. “It is what it is — we have to deal with what happened and move forward.”