As the Frozen Four wrapped up recently with University of Minnesota-Duluth winning its second consecutive NCAA collegiate hockey national championship at the expense of University of Massachusetts-Amherst, careers of several former Powell River Kings also wrapped at the school level. However, as one door closes, others have opened for at least a trio of former Kings.
The 2019 Frozen Four pitted three alumni against each other as Denver University’s Jarid Lukosevicius squared off against Jacob Pritchard, Kurt Keats and UMass-Amherst in one of the semi-finals. The matchup meant Powell River would have representation in the final, with UMass-Amherst prevailing in overtime.
“The event was nothing like I'd ever been a part of before and it was a great ending to an unbelievable year with a great group of guys,” said UMass-Amherst Minutemen senior Kurt Keats. “We knew we'd have our work cut out for us playing against three pretty good and storied college programs, all of whom had won it in the last five years, so we knew it'd be tough test but I'm super proud of our team.”
UMass-Amerst’s luck ran out in the final on April 13, falling 3-0.
With the 2018/2019 season in the rearview mirror, attention turned to next year with several graduating players securing professional contracts.
After being eliminated in the semi-finals, Lukosevicius signed an amateur tryout and a two-year contract (beginning next season) with Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League, an affiliate of the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings. Lukosevicius spent two years in Powell River (2013-2015), playing 116 games and registering 135 points. In four years at Denver, “Luko” tallied 105 points in 158 collegiate games, winning a national championship in 2017.
The signing news involving former Kings continued with goaltender Jeff Smith, who spent two seasons with the club, agreeing to a tryout with the Cleveland Monsters of the AHL, and their affiliate Jacksonville in the ECHL. Smith played his collegiate hockey at St. Cloud State.
Another highlight for Kings’ alumni came following the tournament, as news broke that Pritchard, the Kings’ leading scorer from the 2014/2015 campaign, had signed a one-year contract with the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes. The deal sees Pritchard join the team’s AHL affiliate in Charlotte in the midst of its playoff run.
“I chose the Hurricanes because it was the best fit for me and I'm really happy,” said Pritchard. “It was great for my family and I’m excited to be playing pro hockey and having this next chapter in my career,”
Pritchard wrapped his collegiate career with the Minutemen, after three years with St. Lawrence. Pritchard was fourth in Hockey East scoring, helping UMass to one of its best seasons ever. In a single year with Powell River, Pritchard led the Kings in scoring by tallying 39 goals and 76 points in 54 games.
There could be further signing news through the off-season, with Keats fielding a number of offers.
“I've talked to a few pro teams, so I just have to sit down and talk with my family and figure out what's best for me,” said Keats. “It's a little scary not having that next step. I went to Powell River and then knew I'd be going to UMass, so I'll figure it out over the next few months.”
The magnitude of a national championship appearance is not lost on Keats either, especially considering he shared the trip with a former Kings teammate, and played against a former teammate.
“I said to Pritchard earlier this week that it was wild a couple of years ago we were playing for Powell River and now we're playing here for the same team and against Luko at a national championship,” said Keats. “It speaks volumes to Powell River and the role they played in all of our developments.”
Pritchard and Charlotte will face Providence in the first round of the playoffs, while Lukosevicius and the Griffins square off against Chicago Wolves in their series.
Another former King enjoyed a successful season in the professional ranks. Daniel Carr was named the recipient of the Les Cunningham Award as American Hockey League MVP on Friday, April 19. Carr finished in a tie for third in league scoring, despite only playing 52 games (other players around him played more than 70).
Carr played for Powell River in 2009/2010. He is the first former King to win the award.