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Skeena Voices | Meet the captain of the Terrace River Kings

Hockey cancelled this year, but life goes on
Steve Cullis, captain of the Terrace River Kings hockey team, with his baby daughter in December, 2019. (Photo courtesy Steve Cullis)

Steve Cullis is the captain of the Terrace River Kings hockey team — essentially.

He was captain last season, but this season the River Kings (and the rest of the Central Interior Hockey League) aren’t playing this season because of the pandemic.

The 35-year-old, who was born and raised in the Terrace area, said it’s been a bit of a bummer not being able to play with his team.

“It’s weird for sure,” he said. “And I’m hoping the league can recover as well because it’s a nice thing to have in the northwest and it was good to have two more teams join last year so hopefully this doesn’t set back anything.”

He’s been playing with the River Kings for 14 years and he said he’s noticed some interesting changes over that time. For example, there’s less fighting in the league now because of rule changes. Plus the average age of players is lower and the speed of the game has increased.

“When I started playing in the league I was 21, and we had guys in their forties and even in their fifties playing. And then when I turned 32 or something, I’m the third oldest guy on the team,” he chuckled.

Despite the lack of hockey this season, he’s been keeping busy by spending time with his one-year-old daughter.

“I’m loving being a dad,” he said. “She’s taking up all my time and I’m loving it so far.”

Cullis works as a real-estate appraiser with his dad (also named Steve), who has been in business in Terrace since 1984. Cullis handles the residential properties and his dad handles the commercial properties.

“It gets confusing when people call and ask for Steve,” he said with a laugh. “We have to ask if it’s senior or junior, residential or commercial.”

Cullis said their business was designated as essential and they were very fortunate to keep working through the pandemic.

He got into real estate appraisal in his early 20s, shortly after working as a construction labourer in Calgary in 2006 when there was a construction boom. Work was so plentiful that Cullis, his brother, and another buddy found work by just driving up to a job site and asking the foreman.

“We went to a job site, we said ‘hey, do you need any more guys?’ [The foreman] said ‘yes.’ He said ‘if you can swing a hammer, we’ll give you fifteen bucks an hour,’” Cullis said. “And then my brother asked, ‘Well, what if you can’t swing a hammer?’ and [the foreman] said ‘Well, we’ll still take you but we’ll only give you thirteen an hour.’”

Although the work was plentiful, Cullis didn’t much enjoy it, so when his dad called him up and suggested he also work to become an appraiser, he jumped at the opportunity.

Prior to his time in Calgary, Cullis spent a couple years playing junior hockey in Revelstoke, which were some of the best years of his life because of the great relationship he had with his teammates and his billet family.

“You just hang out with a bunch of buddies every single day. You go to the rink, you practice, and go to the gym a few times a week as well,” he said. “So that kind of lifestyle, when you’re used to doing that for a few years and then you have to grow up and find a job, it was a little tough.”

He also took a semester of sports science at Douglas Collage in Coquitlam when he was 19, spurred by an interest in the coaching and management side of hockey. The program included a general sports coaching strategy course, a biomechanics course, and a motor skills acquisition course. He hasn’t pursued coaching yet but he said he might do so if his daughter is interested in hockey when she gets a little older.

Cullis and his wife recently purchased a property in Thornhill and are looking forward to building a home there next year. With the excitement of the new home on the horizon and the joy of raising their daughter, things are going pretty well.

But Cullis’ heart is heavy this time of year as he remembers his dear friend Cameron Kerr, who was killed in a hit-and-run incident just over two years ago. The people responsible have not been found, despite an extensive RCMP investigation.

In 2018 and 2019, the River Kings held tributes for Cameron, who played for the River Kings, at home games. This year, with the season cancelled, the team won’t have the same opportunity to honour him, though he is still in their hearts.

Cullis recently made a Facebook post appealing for more information in the case, which was shared more than 600 times.

“I just can’t believe that people can hide this for this long,” he said. “I want some closure for the family more than anything. How long do they have to keep guessing as to what exactly happened?”