Out on the water on a Sunday, during a particular Seafest celebration over 40 years ago, Jules Robinson had a minute to decide his future with the Prince Rupert Kings senior men’s hockey team in 1972.
The Tsimshian Rupertite pondered the ultimatum presented before him; try out with the team as a defenceman and maybe make it, maybe not – or be hired as the trainer, and experience the game of hockey a little differently from then on.
“The old grain elevator dock was still up then and so I was on my way up … and George Kuntz and his wife were on their way out. He was my coach … and George said ‘What are you doing next year?’ and I said ‘I’m going to try out for the Kings I hope’, and he said ‘Well I was kind of hoping you’d be part of the team anyways as a trainer’,” described Robinson last week.
“I said ‘Well geesh you’re going to have to let me think about it’ and he said ‘You’ve got a minute.'”
Robinson thought, “Well [this way], if I don’t make the team, I make the team anyways.”
“So I just said ‘yeah’ right there.”
And for 13 years between 1972 and 1985, Robinson was the head trainer of the storied Prince Rupert Kings. His responsibilities included but weren’t limited to, hanging jerseys in the stalls, readying bath towels, filling water-bottles, packing, unpacking the bus for road trips and setting up the post-game pizza and beers.
He learned from Ron Lunny, his mentor for two years before taking over operations himself and the dutiful Kings member rarely missed game-day. Robinson would leave his apartment at 2 p.m. for an 8 p.m. game. He’d sort the sticks, skates, gloves and any minutiae hockey players may need before and during a match. He would make sure each player had a washcloth for their visor, and a bath towel for the showers.
“I’ll bet you when [the players] walked in that dressing room, they thought they were in the NHL,” said Robinson.
He’s seen girlfriends, wives, mistresses and players of all types matched to them. He’s seen some great hockey players and some duds. And when the Pacific Northwest Hockey League folded in the ’80s, partly due to the fact players just stopped coming to Prince Rupert because they didn’t want travel such lengths to lose more often than not, Robinson disbanded with the rest of the Kings.
He fondly recalls Dave Pickett, a small, speedy waterbug who could skate through an entire team, score, and then skate by their bench to celebrate as possibly the greatest centre-man to ever lace ’em up on the northern coastal town.
“His nickname was ‘one-way’, because he was fast. One way. He didn’t backcheck,” said the trainer. But at that time, you needn’t be bothered with defensive responsibilities when you can out-skate an entire team in their own zone.
Then, things got rough for Robinson, and they still are. Diabetes and a silent heart attack struck the Rupertite in the early 2000’s. After working for the city as a fisherman, he is unemployed to this day. Though, Robinson is the trainer for Rupert’s newest men’s team, the Rampage, and even won the team’s most dedicated player award, only ever given to players, and an act unheard of to offer it to the trainer.
“[Current Rampage general manager] Ron German gave me the plaque,” said Robinson.
“But to me a trainer shouldn’t get anything but praise or a thank you.”
Today, with the Rampage, Robinson enjoys his time, but isn’t satisfied with the arena’s set up and the divide between the Oldtimers and the Rampage over room usage. He wants a dry room and a place to store the players’ equipment. They take it home with them once the game is finished.
“My dream is to have a round dressing room as opposed to what we have today (a cornered locker room). If one guy talks, some of them have to lean, where if it’s a round one, nobody has to do that.”
Robinson wants an expansion to the Jim Ciccone Civic Centre at the far corner of the rink beside the locker rooms. A round dressing room, followed by an equipment room and a stairwell to a second level where the executive and scratched players may watch.
He hopes he’d have the ear of the centre’s new recreation director this fall as trainer of the facility’s main draw – the Rampage.
Until then, Robinson diligently works on.
“I’m the first one in the door and I’m the last one to leave. My weekend starts Thursday night after practice,” he said.
But mainly, Robinson’s paternal instincts guide him in his work, whether it be with the Kings of old or the Rampage today, especially after the Kings’ Pickett passed away last year, suffering a heart attack while driving an 18-wheeler big-rig truck.
Pickett pulled over, so he would take no one with him, the trainer remembered. Dedicated in hockey, and in life. And dedicated in death.
“Now I sit behind the bus driver [on the road trips] and I make sure they all get home.”
“I make sure they get home.”