About this time of year three decades ago, a group of 22 people in the community came together to make the dream of a Junior A hockey franchise in Powell River a reality.
“We applied for our franchise and hired Rick Hopper as the coach,” said Powell River Kings director and treasurer Joe Mastrodonato. “He was the guy who actually put all the pieces together to get the team to Powell River. We just provided the money.”
The cost for the franchise at that time was around $25,000, said Mastrodonato. Originally the team was named the Paper Kings, after the Delta Flyers franchise was purchased and relocated to the Sunshine Coast. The team did exceptionally well that first year.
“It was probably one of the best teams we ever had,” he said. “I remember going on a road trip that first year and we won five games in a row.”
The original team had players from as far away as Alaska, but also featured a few local players, including Scott Mastrodonato, Judson Innes and Brad Bombardir, who was drafted into the National Hockey League in the team’s second year and won a Stanley Cup with New Jersey Devils in 2000.
Other Kings who have gone on to play in NHL include Robb Gordon and Daniel Carr, and draft picks have included Sean Maguire and Jamie Phillips. These achievements are outstanding, but Kings coach Kent Lewis said it is about so much more than that.
“It's tremendous to see that as the ultimate in terms of hockey, but it's really special to see the success at any level and walk of life,” said Lewis.
Lewis has coached the Kings for more than 20 years and said he keeps in touch with many of the players he recruited over the years. Lewis said he finds it gratifying to see the impact the team has had on their lives.
“To see carpenters, policemen, lawyers, surgeons,” said Lewis, “it's been really special for me to be a part of their lives and see them learn something, not just on the ice but off of it.”
Kings have been crowned Coastal Conference champions seven times since that first season, including a run of four straight trips to the BC Hockey League final from 2009 to 2012. The team has also qualified for the BCHL playoffs every year since 2001.
“There’s great Kings history and it’s been an honour to be a part of it,” said Kings marketing and community relations manager Nadine Porchetta.
Reminiscing over his long association with the Kings, Lewis said many moments stand out. However, game six against Victoria in last year’s playoffs remains one of the most notable.
“That was one of the most gratifying wins I've had,” said Lewis. “We won game six to force a game seven in the final, and that was incredible; an incredible crowd and great feeling.”
Mastrodonato and Lewis are looking forward to what the team will achieve next.
“We're always caught up in the now; always survival,” said Lewis.
Mastrodonato said focusing on new goals is an exciting part of the evolution of the team.
“Every year you start off, you want to have a championship team,” said Mastrodonato. “We haven’t achieved that yet, so perhaps in the future we can do that, and hopefully we’ll be here for another 30 years.”