Jason King poses at the St. John’s IceCaps playing bench at Mile One Centre after announcing his retirement as a professional hockey player in this file photo.
— Photo by Joe Gibbons/The Telegram
ST. JOHN’S — If the St. John’s IceCaps leave this province, Jason King is willing to go with them.
The Corner Brook native, a former player and now a coach with the American Hockey League club, was ecstatic to return to his home province after years of playing hockey professionally all over North America and overseas.
Now it appears that homecoming will be a short one.
On Tuesday in Thunder Bay, Ont., it was announced a group had Winnipeg Jets and St. John’s IceCaps owners True North Sports and Entertainment on board as a partner on a proposed new event centre, seemingly signalling the end to the IceCaps brief existence in this province.
“As of now, I’m employed by the Winnipeg Jets,” said King on Wednesday. “Both the Jets and IceCaps have been tremendous to me and my family ... I’d love to stay with this organization.”
Even if that means uprooting his young family after finally making it back to the island he grew up on.
“It’s been great ... to be able to play here and now to coach here, but you never know what the future holds,” he said. “I’d love to be able to continue doing what I’m doing. If that means I have to move, then so be it.”
King has a two-year contract as an assistant coach with the IceCaps. The team’s deal in St. John’s expires the same time as that contract, so there are really no guarantees King would still even be with the organization after that point in time.
But, as IceCaps coach Keith McCambridge stressed in a TC Media article published on Aug. 31, 2013, King wasn’t hired as part of some sort of symbolic gesture to keep a Newfoundlander on the team. He also has a connection with those in charge of the Jets from his days as a member of the Manitoba Moose, the team that eventually became the IceCaps.
“When you’re in this industry, job security is never the best,” the 32-year-old King said. “You hope you have a good relationship ... we go back a long ways. I have a lot of respect for them and you just work your hardest to make them proud of what you do.
“For me, nothing changes,” he added. “Whether it’s Thunder Bay or wherever it may be, my attitude towards hockey and my work ethic doesn’t change.”
King was aware the potential for this announcement always existed, but admitted he was surprised it came on Tuesday. He was informed of what was happening just prior, by McCambridge.
“I don’t know if you’re ever really prepared for it, it’s a tough decision,” said King. “You understand the geographic side of it — I completely understand Winnipeg wanting to get this team closer so it’s more convenient for them — but I’m sure there’s a lot of disappointed fans as well.”
The issue was addressed with the team on Wednesday, though King said it was basically business as usual after that.
“Our goals and intentions aren’t going to change here,” he said.
King said the players also understand the situation and why a move is likely, but doesn’t believe any of them are overly excited to leave St. John’s because it’s proven to be such a successful hockey market.
“To play in front of a sold-out rink every night, you don’t get that in every other AHL city,” he said. “Very few, actually.
“But on the other hand, that’s the nature of the beast when you’re dealing with hockey,” he continued. “I’ve moved a hundred times throughout my career. It’s just how the game works, you deal with it as you go.”
And, for what it’s worth, King doubts St. John’s would be without a hockey team for long, even with the geographical disadvantages.
“At the end of the day, you want your AHL players to play in front of good crowds and a good atmosphere,” he said. “This is second to none.
“I think there will be hockey here again ... hopefully sooner than later.”