By Dave Werstine
Long Beach Press Telegram
Wanting a turnaround from the two worst seasons in franchise history, Kemp asked Cameron what he could do to help. A bigger budget might have been nice, but Cameron gave a different, surprising answer.
“I told him, ‘I want you to be proud of your hockey team again’,” Cameron said.
If Kemp’s season-long, ear-to-ear smile is any indication, he is.
The Ice Dogs are 17-8-3 and are in first place the West Division of the National Conference and for the first time since 2001-02 were above .500 at Christmas. Last year, they were 7-17-2 and well out of the playoff race, and two years ago, they were 12-13-2 and in the midst of a cataclysmic meltdown.
“That is one thing we wanted to have a team and organization to be proud of,” said Kemp. “In my commitment to (Cameron), I told him I would be more involved than I have been. It’s not that dramatic of a difference, but I am in a more active position.”
One of the things that Kemp did for Cameron was to help in the recruiting process, make a few phone calls to some key players to let them know that the organization was committed to becoming a contender again.
“It was my first time (getting involved like that),” Kemp said. “(Managing partner) Rick (Adams) has always been active in that, but I have not. But I felt it was important to show, as ownership was concerned, that we were going to be supportive in getting back on track. I felt it was important to do my part.”
Kemp, a Hollywood producer with hits such as “Catch Me If You Can” and “Patch Adams” to name a couple who has endured well over $25 million in losses over nine seasons, hasn’t had this much fun with his hockey team since the first two years, including a trip to the IHL’s Turner Cup Finals in 1996.
But the fun isn’t all coming from the ice. He is plenty proud of the strides the front office has made, selling more season tickets than any year except for the team’s first year in Long Beach. Attendance is nominally up 2,828 per game compared to last year’s 2,624 and the trend in Long Beach is for better crowds after the holidays.
Things look so good that Kemp admits that the team “could actually make money,” or at worst suffer only a “manageable loss.”
“Christmas is the turn, and we’ve never been in this position,” he said.
Having faced losing money and losing seasons, Kemp has found a newfound appreciation for his team.
“If you could script it like you would for TV, you wouldn’t have scripted a trip to the Kelly Cup Finals in the first year. There’s no emotional investment there,” he said. “You’ve got to go through adversity to appreciate what you have. As painful as it has been, you have to go through it to really enjoy the good times.”