At one time the RDC (now RDP) Kings were one of the powerhouses in the Alberta College Athletic Conference Men’s Hockey League.
But after winning their eighth league title in 1994 they ran into a dry spell that lasted close to 30 years.
During that time they did step away from the league for 10 years, before returning in the 2013-14 season. Since returning, under the direction of head coach Trevor Keeper, the Kings have slowly moved up the standings until last year when they captured their ninth league title, sweeping NAIT 3-0 in the best-of-five final.
“That was a huge experience reaching the top of the mountain and getting an opportunity to look down at the other side,” said Keeper.
“I feel we could be even better this year, although we have something every other team wants and we’ll have a target on our backs, even in the preseason.”
The Kings did lose four players from last year’s squad including high-scoring forward Jacob Kendall.
Kendall led the ACAC in scoring in the 2021-22 season while being named to the first all-star team and the league’s rookie of the year. He also led the Kings in scoring last season and was a second-team all-star.
“We found out in early August he was going to the University of Alberta and tryout for the Golden Bears,” said Keeper. “He’s a big loss, but we still have a solid group back, added a talented younger guy and with the experience everyone had last year we could be just as good.”
The Kings also lost forward Dylan Esau, who had 14 points in 22 games and is transferring to the University of Saskatchewan, but not playing. Keeper added 20-year-old Dawson Leroux, who played the last two seasons with the Melfort Mustangs of the SJHL. Prior to that the Lethbridge native played parts of three seasons with the Olds Grizzlys.
Last year Leroux finished with 22 goals and 32 assists in 54 games.
The Kings also lost two rearguards in all-star Parker Gavlas and Konrad Belcourt.
Gavlas is returning to the U of S while Belcourt is trying out for the Golden Bears.
”Two big holes, but saying that we added two good young defencemen and do have six guys returning.
“Last year we had three first-year rookies so we could be even deeper this year.”
The Kings even won the league title with Gavlas sitting out after being suspended for three games.
“That speaks to our depth.”
Newcomers on defence are Kevin Minnoch and Jarod Newell.
Minnoch has an offensive side to his game, finishing last season with 13 goals and 30 helpers in 50 games for the Melfort Mustangs.
Newell, who was drafted by the Tri-City Americans in the WHL in 2017, and played parts of three seasons with the Americans, Kelowna Rockets and Winnipeg Ice. The six-foot-two, 210-pound naive of Wainwright finished his junior career last season with the Camrose Kodiaks.
“Jarod brings some toughness and size to our back end,” said Keeper. “He’s very skilled and a good skater.”
The returnees include Layne Toder, Tanner Sklaruk, Brennan Davis, Ty Ettinger, Liam Stalwick and Tyson Janzen.
“We have good balance on the back end with offensive and defence guys,” said Keeper.
The Kings also have all three goaltenders returning, including fifth-year Arik Weersink, who was brilliant in the playoffs, posting a 2.18 goals-against-average, a .918 save percentage and a 5-1 record.
“Winning last year we learned how important goaltending is,” said Keeper. “Not just stopping the puck, but timely saves and playing the puck and helping the defence. We worked a lot on breakout plays with our goaltenders making that first pass and moving it to the defencemen.
“It’s nice to have all three back so we can hit the ground running.”
Up front, Nolan Doell and Jake Wozney, who tied for the league scoring in the playoffs with seven points apiece, return along with Chance Longjohn, who was third in team scoring last season behind Kendall and Doell.
Jaxon Steele, Ryland McNinch, Sean Michalevich, Regan Doig, Deegan Mofford, Chase and Easton Haygarth, Hayden Clayton, Holden Knight and Erik Miller return up front.
Keeper indicated it’s important for the team to enjoy the season.
“Teams don’t repeat a lot, but we told the guys to just to keep moving forward, have fun, work hard and just get better every week. Don’t put pressure on yourself and don’t get down on yourselves when there are some negative times. Just enjoy it.”
The Kings first exhibition game is Sept. 15 when they host Augustana.
The Kings will face Mount Royal University in Calgary Jan. 6 and will likely meet the Korean University squad Jan. 5 or Feb. 15 at RDP.
The Korean team is located in Calgary and looking to enter the ACAC full-time next season.
‘There’s some red tape for them yet, but I’m all for it,” said Keeper. “They’re associated with the university and it would be good for the league in that it would give us eight teams and also create a lot of interest in Korea when it comes to ACAC TV.”
Cody Reynolds, Trevor Costello and Terry Welch are returning to the coaching staff.
Danny Rode is a retired Advocate reporter and member of the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame who can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org