RDC Kings hockey season shuttered, team left wondering what could have been

It was only a week ago, even if the days feel like weeks and weeks feel like months these days.

Last Friday, as the RDC Kings tried to prepare like it was any other day when they got the news, it would no longer be like any other day.

In the blink of an eye, the Alberta College Athletic Association season was suspended, meaning their game that night in the second round of the playoffs with the MacEwan University Griffins had also been canceled.

On Monday, the entirety of the ACAC playoffs were shut down because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, meaning the Kings would have to wait another year to achieve provincial supremacy.

“We built our program over the past seven years, we’ve gotten better every single year, to the point where we finally earn a bye to the semi-finals, we had two weeks to get healthy and we had prepared really well,” said Kings head coach Trevor Keeper.

“We were super excited to be able to play against MacEwan and the rug got pulled out. It was a shock.”

While there is understanding among the group, there’s also wonder. The mystery of what could have been, with a healthy team that earned a bye in the first round and were ready to battle with MacEwan.

They finished 20-6-2 in the regular season, grinding out six of eight wins in the final month of the season while there was a sickness running through the roster.

In November, it appeared the Kings would give the NAIT Ooks a run for the conference title, running off nine straight wins. But with an injury in early January to starting goalie Arik Weersink, they stumbled and lost five of seven. That led to the February stretch where they needed a win on the final day of the regular season to wrap up the bye, ahead of the Griffins.

“We found a way to get our points that we needed to and finish second, the guys were really excited because we did get through that and we were headed into playoffs with a full roster for the first time since the end of first semester,” he said.

“The past two years we had 19 wins and this year we finished with 20, and we’re proud of that. Just wish we could have had an opportunity to show that in the playoffs, too.”

Keeper said he feels most for the fifth-years or players moving on, Dylan Thudium and captain Scott Ferguson. Both who have made significant contributions to the program over the last four or five years and like most figured this could be their year.

“I felt really bad for our graduating guys moving on because they waited for their whole career to have an opportunity where we felt like we could win and it just got taken away,” Keeper said.

With all that wonder behind them, the hope comes back around for 2020-21. Keeper noted they have already done most of their recruiting for next season, with forward Ty Mappin moving back to the blue line and at least four recruits coming in up front.

Kobe Mohr, a five-year WHL forward with stints in Edmonton, Kamloops, Kelowna and Moose Jaw is the big prize for the Kings.

In addition to Mohr, they’ve added forward Erik Miller, who played three seasons in the WHL and had 69 points in 56 games with the Camrose Kodiaks of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. He also had six goals and 14 points in seven playoff games with Camrose before season was canceled. They also will bring in Cruz Cote, who was captain Cowichan Valley Capitals of the BCHL last year as well as Jacob Kendall of Camrose.

As far off as next season seems and the wonder still settles from this season, the next year will have to be their best year yet.

“We always try and build and add the right pieces that compliment each other and not have too much of the same thing. With those five new guys, we have a lot of skill and speed, a little mixture of size,” Keeper said.

“We always try and recruit from good programs. So they have good experience, so those guys have three or four years in the Western League, they’ve played a lot of hockey games. They know what it’s like, so that adds to your culture.”

The Kings are losing a pair of coaches, as Cody Reynolds is the new bench boss for the Red Deer U18AAA Optimist Chiefs and Tyler Lightbrown also went with him. In addition, Keeper is also trying to recruit a third goaltender for the 2020-21 season.

Email sports tips to Byron Hackett

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