Kevin Ready just wanted to win a championship with the Pembroke Lumber Kings, but four years after he took over as the team’s general manager, he stepped aside. After calling his own news conference, Ready said, “This year the Lumber Kings didn’t perform up to the expectations of many, including me, and while many reasons may be cited, the bottom line is someone has to take responsibility for our lack of success. That individual, I believe, is me as General Manager,” reflected Ready.
It was a disappointing ending to what had started out as an exciting opportunity for Ready to lead the junior team that he had grown up cheering for. Like the club’s new owner, Terry Olsheski, Ready had fond memories of watching the 1972-73 Lumber Kings roll through the league and make it all the way to the Centennial Cup Final. He envisioned the same journey, determined to find the right players to turn Pembroke back into a perennial champion, but that’s not how it played out.
Olsheski had bought the team in the spring of 1995, taking over from a group of owners who were anxious to get out of owning the club after being at the helm for many years. A well-known Pembroke dentist, Olsheski was a junior hockey fan and a good businessman, but when it came to hockey operations, he left those decisions to the people he would hire to run the on ice operations. His first hire was Kevin Ready.
Ready had returned to Pembroke to take the job, leaving a position in the recreation department at the city of Peterborough. He was well connected, knowing people at all levels of the sport, and he was a master promoter. Soon after he was hired, the Lumber Kings became involved in several new initiatives to raise their profile and to generate new revenue sources.
They organized community concerts, exhibition games with Ontario Hockey League major junior teams and European junior squads and they staged special banquets, bringing NHL alumni and Ron MacLean of Hockey Night in Canada to Pembroke. They celebrated Lumber Kings alumni like Larry Mick and Jim Farelli, raising a banner to the roof of the Pembroke Memorial Centre in a pre-game ceremony, and Ready started writing his own column in the Pembroke Observer to keep fans informed about what the Lumber Kings were doing to win more games. He creatively titled his column, “Ready or Not.”
Some of it worked, some of it didn’t, but there was no question Ready had a bold vision to integrate the team into the broader community. He wanted the Lumber Kings to succeed both on and off the ice, and he was given lots of leeway by Olsheski to promote the team to bring more people into the rink.
Ready’s first big hire was Roly Kimble who came on board as the Lumber Kings head coach. Ready and Kimble knew each other from Peterborough where Kimble had a lot of success coaching in minor hockey, He had played with the Petes and was drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in the 1973 NHL draft, but never made it to the “show”, spending most of his minor league time in the International and American Hockey Leagues.
Things didn’t work out for Kimble and Ready. In two seasons behind the bench, Kimble’s coaching record was 31-58-13. After the 1996-97 season, Kimble resigned. He admitted, it was a tougher job than he thought it would be and agonized about what could have been.
Perhaps the biggest disappointment was their first season working together. Ready had pulled off quite a coup by convincing NHL agent Jay Grossman to allow two of his top prospects, Dainius Zubrus and Dimitri Yakushin, to play with the Lumber Kings. Ready had delivered a gift to Kimble.
Both players were being courted by major junior teams, but Grossman knew Ready from Peterborough and liked him, and so he agreed with Ready’s assessment that Pembroke was a good hockey town and close enough to the major centres that NHL scouts could get a good look at both players. Ready was right. The scouts came, including Ottawa Senators General Manager John Muckler who made the trip to the PMC on the same night it was announced that Wayne Gretzky had been traded to the St. Louis Blues.
Muckler thought that was the most interesting part of his trip to Pembroke. He wasn’t sold on Zubrus, who had put up 19 goals and 32 points in 28 games with the Kings, but other NHL teams were. In the spring of 1996, the Philadelphia Flyers used their 15th overall pick to select Zubrus who went on to play almost 20 years in the NHL. It was a remarkable story. Zubrus had jumped from Junior A hockey in Pembroke to the top hockey league in the world without playing a single game in major junior or the minor leagues. It was Kevin Ready’s greatest moment as general manager of the Pembroke Lumber Kings.
But after Kimble left, the Lumber Kings continued to flounder. Ready hired a very young Robert Levasseur to coach the club and even brought in veteran coach Mac MacLean to be his mentor. It didn’t work out. In his final season at the helm, Ready hired Jamie Wilson, but when the team was swept in the first round of the playoffs by Hawkesbury, his frustration with not winning forced him into a tough decision. It was time to call it a day as the General Manager of one of Canada’s most successful junior hockey franchises.
Years later, Ready returned to the organization when Lumber Kings owner Dale McTavish purchased a Junior B team and moved it to Cobden for the 2017-18 season. Ready spent the inaugural season as the General Manager of the Whitewater Kings but then realized it was more than he wanted to take on, leaving the Lumber Kings organization for the final time.
Recently Ready passed away in Peterborough He had battled health issues for several years and was 70 years old. His final resting place will be in Osceola, a small farming community where Ready had many friends and relatives. The Lumber Kings extend our deepest sympathy to the Ready family.