Powell River Kings relieved head coach Kent Lewis of his duties as head coach and general manager on January 29.
“Looking to the future, it’s in the best interest of the club,” said Powell River Kings Hockey Club Society president Rob Villani. “We are in need of a full-time coach and general manager, not a part-time coach and general manager. Requirements of the league and team have grown beyond a part-time coach and general manager, and that's the impetus behind the move.”
Lewis said he was taken aback and upset, which he related in his usual, matter-of-fact manner.
“I don't know what the feeling is like when you have the carpet ripped from under your feet,” said Lewis. “You conk your head, then you get punched in the gut and you take a knife out of your back all at the same time.”
After a fast start and moving into first place early in the BC Hockey League Island Division season, Kings were hit with injuries that opened a revolving door of young affiliate players coming in to fill gaps in the lineup.
The team then went into a slump in December and then the board made a unanimous decision to fire Lewis, according to Villani.
“That was a minor part of the decision-making,” said Villani. “The team has underperformed for the talent we have.”
Despite adversity, including injuries to key players and using affiliate players, the Kings had clinched a playoff spot under Lewis’ direction in a tough division.
“I wanted to coach this team right through to the end of the season and the playoffs," said Lewis, whose contract with the team was up at the end of this season. “I’m obviously very upset that there couldn’t have been more lines of communication to fix whatever was deemed to be the problem."
Lewis added that he wanted to coach the players he recruited and finish off in the right way.
With 11 games remaining in the regular season, Kings have a record of 23 wins, 15 losses, five overtime losses, two ties and two overtime losses. The club’s 55 points are two fewer than first-place Victoria Grizzlies and three more than Nanaimo Clippers.
Kings also have the best goal differential in the division, at plus 28, and are one of the most disciplined clubs in the league, which are not usual conditions for a team to fire its coach.
Villani said he would not comment whether Lewis’ relationship with the players impacted the decision. In making what it believes is the best decision for the club, the board hopes the players respond accordingly, he added.
Lewis’ final two games behind the bench were home losses, including a 4-1 defeat against Penticton Vees on January 26 and a 4-3 overtime loss to Nanaimo on January 27.
Kings captain Gavin Rauser said the team took a lot of positives away from the game against the Vees and the score was not indicative of the play.
After falling behind by two goals, Carter Turnbull’s team-leading 23rd goal of the season brought the Kings to within one in the third period. Lewis pulled goaltender Mitch Adamyk for the extra attacker and the Vees scored two empty-net goals.
“We played really well that game,” said Rauser. “It was the first time we saw what we're capable of, everyone firing on all cylinders, but on Saturday it was the opposite.”
Three of Nanaimo’s four goals were scored on breakaways.
“We had some mental breaks and it's kind of tough seeing how well we played the night before with defending and being alert,” said Rauser. “To give that up in the Saturday game was tough and frustrating. If we wake up and come for 60 minutes of play every night we should be able to do good things, especially with playoffs coming up.”
Kings assistant coach Brock Sawyer has been named interim coach in the aftermath of the Lewis firing.
Sawyer’s first game behind the bench takes place in Wenatchee on Wednesday, January 31. The team returns to Powell River for a pair of games against Alberni Valley this weekend.