These are the worst of times for Powell River Kings and not a place the team is used to being in. Several injuries and a prolonged slump have seen the team slip from its early season perch atop the BC Hockey League Island Division standings.
“It’s been upsetting,” said Kings head coach Kent Lewis at the midway point of the 2017/2018 season.
Lewis is not an excuses kind of guy, but even he said injuries have had an impact on a slump the team has been fighting through that goes back to the beginning of December.
“This is one of the most banged-up clubs I've ever coached,” said Lewis. “It has been one of the worst years for injuries we've had, and that's just the way it goes. You can't rush anybody back into the lineup; you have to make sure they're healed.”
Lewis is currently missing forwards Gavin Rauser and Nick Abbott, defenders Jack Long and Nathan Kelly, and goaltender Matteo Paler-Chow, who injured himself playing basketball over the holiday break.
“He’s not in my good books,” said Lewis about the latter.
Veteran forward Hunter Findlater said in the four years he has played with the Kings, the current period has been one of the most difficult times for the team.
“We've been missing quite a few key guys with Jack Long and Gavin Rauser having been out over a month now,” said Findlater. “We sure need them back.”
It has been hard to keep up with players who have been on and off the injury list this season, but Findlater remains optimistic.
“Once everyone gets healthy, we'll be playing a lot better,” he said.
Lewis has had to rely on affiliate players to fill gaps left by the fallen. Affiliates are essentially from the Kings farm system.
“We have good affiliates,” said Lewis. “What's been tough is getting into set lines and just getting into a routine of a roster.”
On the positive side of things, the first half of the season saw a number of players reach milestones, including two players who have worn only the Kings jerseys throughout their Junior A careers.
Born and raised in Powell River, Findlater is one of those players who fly under the radar. The grinder who does not score a lot of goals played in his 200th regular season game in the King’s 5-3 win over Nanaimo Clippers on January 12.
“It's gone by so quick,” said Findlater. “The four years feel like one. I never take any day for granted. I love playing. It's been a really cool experience.”
Jonny Evans played his 200th game, including playoffs, on December 9, 2017. A prolific scorer, he added his 100th regular season assist and his 200th point against Cowichan Valley Capitals on January 6.
Rauser reached his 150th game played for the Kings that same game. Andy Stevens is also a 150-game player, earning the mark on December 9, 2017.
Carter Turnbull recorded his 100th point as a King in the first game of the season against Victoria Grizzlies.
Findlater said the Kings fully expect to make the playoffs, which is a topic Lewis is not interested in discussing.
“I don’t even want to talk about it right now,” said Lewis.
Findlater said the players also expect to be on top of the division by the end of the season.