MIKE KING (left) works with Andrew Desjardins of the San Jose Sharks at RHP Training Centre in Sudbury, Ontario. Thomas Duncan - Courtesy Photo. (click for larger version)
December 03, 2012SUDBURY, Ontario — As a hockey fan, Mike King is certainly disappointed in the lockout that has cost the National Hockey League (NHL) its season so far.
However, there is part of him that is a bit selfish and can't complain too much.
As Director of Player Development at RHP Training Centre in Sudbury, Ontario, a position he assumed early this year, King has been working with players of all ages to improve their hockey skills, but with the lockout in place for NHL players, he has seen an uptick in players who have seen time in the NHL knocking on RHP's door to get their work in.
"It's kind of selfish, but it's been great," King said. "I've been able to develop some relationships with guys in the NHL."
Sudbury is home to the AHL Sudbury Wolves, a team that King has worked with on a regular basis since relocating to Ontario from the Mount Washington Valley earlier this year. With the NHL lockout in full-force, many players that normally would be in the NHL are playing in the AHL, provided they have two-way contracts that allow them to do so. Other players are making the choice to go overseas and play.
However it works out, King is offering his assistance in keeping players in the best condition they can be in so that if the lockout ends they will be ready to go.
"They were sticking around after the lockout started," King said. "I continue to work with them to keep them in shape for the NHL returns or to get ready for next season."
NHL clients on King's list include Andrew Desjardins of the San Jose Sharks, Marcus Foligno of the Buffalo Sabres and Nick Foligno of the Columbus Blue Jackets, as well as Zack Stortini, who plays for the Hamilton Bulldogs in the AHL.
For King, the ability to work with players who have made it to the highest level hockey has to offer is the fulfillment of a goal he set when he made the move north of the border.
"When I moved up here, my goal was to start to work with players at that level," King said. "I was lucky to get exposed to that right away."
King is proud of the relationship he has built with many of the area's elite players, as they continue to come to him twice a day to get in their work and improve in any way they can despite not getting to play their regular NHL schedule.
"It's kind of a relationship-based thing," King said. "They get to like you and get to like the individual attention."
Most of his work with players at the highest level involves skill development and he works to try and push the players out of their comfort zone by trying new things. The players enjoy trying to beat King at his own practices.
"It adds a little bit of fun for them," he said. "Personally, all the drills I do with them, I have to do myself. I can actually show them and then they do it."
He notes that the players are certainly down about not being able to play, noting it's a lot like anyone else being out of a job.
"You feel bad for them," he said. "They're going crazy and it's only a quarter of the way through the season."
He notes it's particularly tough on the younger guys, the guys who may be playing on their first contract and have just broken through into the NHL. They haven't had a chance to save up money from a big contract, meaning it's tough being out of work.
Of course, the lockout takes its toll on players of all ages, as the NHL players who are contractually-able, move to the AHL to play, which in turn puts other AHL players out of work. And veterans who can't do that lose another year of their hockey-playing life.
"It hurts everybody," King said. "It's a trickle-down effect."
As for things at RHP, King is happy with how things are going, as he has been doing a lot of work with small groups and helping out with the Wolves when needed.
"But I have been devoting a lot of time to the NHL players," he said. "So I am working split shifts. They like to train in the a.m. and the p.m."
He also noted that while he would love to be closer to the Mount Washington Valley that he calls home, he knows the place to be is right where he is.
"To be closer to the Valley would be great," he said. "But for my career, this is the best place to be and I've developed some great relationships with some great guys.
"Hopefully it will help me down the road," he added.
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 569-3126