Dave Dawson/The Packet & Times Orillia’s Kings are being driven by a new title sponsor. The city’s Jr. B team will now be known as Orillia’s Experience Nissan Kings, thanks to a three-year sponsorship deal with the Commerce Road Nissan dealership. Above, from left, are Joel Campbell (team president), Rob Blasdell (general manager), players Tyler Goodchild, Michael Montgomery and Trent Boyd, along with Krista Kemp and Brent Kemp, principal owners of Orillia’s Experience Nissan.
Orillia's Jr. B lacrosse team has scored an important victory before the whistle has even blown to start the 2017 Ontario Lacrosse Association (OLA) season. Earlier this week, the Kings announced that Orillia's Experience Nissan has become the squad's title sponsor.
"I am definitely glad we can help them out," said Brent Kemp, who, along with his sister, Krista Kemp, are the principal owners of the Commerce Road dealership. "We have signed a three-year contract and my hope is to extend it after that. We really want to bring stability to the team."
The Kings hold a special place in Brent Kemp's heart. He grew up playing minor lacrosse in Orillia and, in his midget year, he was called up to play with the Kings for several games in 1994, the year the Kings won the Founder's Cup, emblematic of Jr. B lacrosse supremacy in Canada.
"I am so fortunate I had the opportunity to play with that team," said Kemp, recalling with fondness those halcyon days in Orillia. "Back then, it was standing room only at the Community Centre Friday night - it was the place to be. That's what I'd like to see it become again."
The era Kemp is referring to was a time of dominance for the Kings, who went to five straight Founder's Cup championships, winning two. But after that, the team lost its way. It moved up to the Jr. A ranks for a time, but could never compete at that level. When the team returned to Jr. B, it floundered.
But after five consecutive one-win seasons, the team enjoyed a renaissance last year. It started with the hiring of Rob Blasdell as the team's new general manager. With a pedigree that includes titles at various levels and a stellar pro career in the National Lacrosse League, Blasdell brought instant credibility to the team. When he hired Canadian Lacrosse Hall of Famer Jim Meredith as the team's bench boss, that credibility was cemented.
The dynamic duo led the Kings to respectability; the upstart Kings compiled a surprising 10-9-1 regular-season record. Despite being swept in the first round of the playoffs, it was a dramatic turnaround for the team. Blasdell and Meredith believe it's just the first step in a journey back to the Holy Grail.
"Last year, we changed the culture and now we just want to continue to improve," said Blasdell, who admits his team surprised a lot of people last year. "We're not going to sneak up on anyone this year, but I think the structure's in place and we have the experience from playing some good teams last year. But, no question, we have our work cut out for us."
The GM said the nucleus of last year's team is returning. While the Kings will miss Cam Shilling, who is now too old to play junior, several emerging midget players will be given a chance to play this year, said Blasdell. "Jordan Roberts, Michael Montgomery and Sam Campbell all impressed last year when they were called up to play and I think they could have an impact this year."
He said Meredith's return as bench boss is also critical. "He's knowledgeable, he's personable, the guys like him and they are committed to play for him," said Blasdell. "There's a bit more pressure now because we've set the bar higher, but that was the goal."
Another goal was to bring long-term stability to the team. "One of the goals of mine, of (Meredith's) and of our executive is to bring some pride back to this team and back to Orillia," said Blasdell. "To get a sponsor like (Kemp) who has a passion for the game of lacrosse is fantastic and to have them behind us gives us credibility. We are really lucky to have them on board."
The Orillia's Experience Nissan Kings, which have been busy with workouts and practices since early March, will play their home opener April 29 at Rotary Place against the Markham Ironheads. The game will start at 7 p.m.