The Reign have re-signed veteran defensemen Chad Starling and David Walker, two of their alternate captains during their inaugural season.
Starling, 28, recorded two goals and seven points while becoming one of three Reign players to appear in all 73 games last season. The tall (6-foot-6) defensive specialist added an assist in seven playoff games.
Walker, who turned 30 last month, set career highs with seven goals and 28 points in 70 games last season. Known primarily for his defense, Walker proved capable of handling the power play at times. The former Long Beach Ice Dog was also capable with his fists: His 136 penalty minutes led the team.
Walker said that his choice was between the Reign or retirement.
“Yeah, it’s different making decisions when you’re a single guy; now I’m married,” he said. “You have to make decisions based on two people now. I took time to look over all the options with my wife. Personally I thought I had a really good season. I finished strong and was healthy, which is a big thing.”
More from Walker:
“A lot of us are making the decision to come back with that last little taste of defeat still from losing to Stockton. We’ve got revenge on our minds. It’s easy when you can stay at home and play.”
On setting career highs in goals and points:
“I didn’t do anything last year than I didn’t do in years past. The difference last year was that (coach) Karl (Taylor) gave me an opportunity to show and take advantage of certain situations and show what I had to offer. In previous years, if you look point-wise, my first year pro and the next three, there’s a little bit of a dropoff. I was given opportunities the first year. The next two years, I was given that strictly defensive role with no offensive chances given to me. Last year with Karl, coming in and not knowing what I could do, he gave me an opportunity to show what I could do. A lot of thanks goes to Karl, because he showed faith in me. I was just waiting for that time and that coach to give me that chance. Playing with Andrew Martens made things easy offensively. Then when we picked up P.J. Atherton, we had a lot of guys who could do a lot of things. I played off of Andrew that way, defined my game based on what his strengths were and what mine were. It kind of fit – my weaknesses were his strengths.”
“When I was on the ice with Andrew, there was a lot of attention to him — and for good reason. He’s a good player. There’s less focus on me; if you look at our stats, that’s good coaching. I was very fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. People who are setting up the goals on the power play – it didn’t hurt that we had a good power play. If you’re going to play on the power play and it’s successful, you’re going to get points. Karl was definitely a coach that gave me and opportunity from day one. I was happy with the way that I was used. I was happy with the way things were last year, just not the ending.”
On the two alternate captains coming back along with captain Jon Francisco:
“These were captains assigned by the coach Karl and with a little bit of a say by the players and their input. For him to extend offers to the people that were his leaders last year says two things. One, that he’s happy with the job we did leadership-wise on and off the ice. And two, from a player’s point of view, it shows the direction he wants to go based on the leadership he has. It’s the team I wanted to be associated with.”
Taylor said that Walker and Starling are “big pieces” in the team’s puzzle.
“I believe in buildling from the back end. They’re guys we want to have around. They really care about what they’re doing. David had a really good season. Chad had a decent season.”
On Walker’s offensive ability:
“He’s kind of a swing guy. He’s not an offensive player, but he can do it. He’s got some skill and the confidence now from having a good year. He makes good plays and smart plays. He’s really simple. Probably one of the best technical fighters in the league. We relied on him more than I wanted to in that department (fighting). I want less from him and more from other people (fighting). He’s still gonna do it because he enjoys it. I’d like to have some other guys pick that up. He was good on the power play. He picked good moments to go back door. You tend to grow as a person and as a player.”
“Chad’s a big guy. He’s been injured the last two years, then played hurt. He had surgeries every summer. Training in the summer hasn’t been available — he always got a late start. I’d like to see him trim down a little bit, recommit himself to being in the best shape possible. He had a bad hip through the playoffs that really slowed him down. He’s excited to come back. I anticipate them being in better shape – like I do from every player that returns.”