Reign 7, Bakersfield 5.

There were a number of strange aspects to Wednesday’s game, not the least of which was a season-high seven goals against a team that had beaten the Reign in 11 of 14 meetings coming into the night.

Karl Taylor insisted that it had nothing to do with the pressure of making playoffs being off.

“Pressure doesn’t affect the players. We’re freakin’ 11-21 at home, let’s figure it out,” he said. “We didn’t score seven goals because we’re already eliminated. That has nothing to do with it. We got some good bounces tonight and we shot a lot of pucks. Probably a couple their goalie would like to have back.”

Shawn Germain, who scored a short-handed goal to set a new career high for goals in a single season (4), had a different take. Check that out in tomorrow’s editions of the Sun and Daily Bulletin.

Brett O’Malley had two goals, and Alex Bourret (on a penalty shot), Justin Taylor, Jordan Morrison and Aaron Lewadniuk had one each.

Beau Erickson stopped 29 of 34 shots in the win. Shane Connolly served as the backup.

Notes from practice.

Considering the Reign have the ECHL’s worst record, have been eliminated from the playoffs, and don’t have any recent college or CHL graduates in on tryout contracts, maintaining the current roster and system might seem like the most radical course of action for the final three games of the season.

Yet that’s exactly what Karl Taylor is planning to do.

“You think about it, like ‘gee, I always wanted to try this, or experiment,’ but no. We’re not trying to do anything,” Taylor said after a brisk practice Tuesday in advance of tomorrow’s game against Bakersfield. “We played very well last weekend, executed well, showed a lot of character. We need to do that at home this weekend and reward our fans.”

The Reign wound up as a decent road team this season — 34 points (15-17-2-2) in 36 games — after taking two of three in Idaho last week. If the Reign won at the same rate at home as they did on the road, they would finish with 68 points this season. Considering that Victoria has 66 points with three games left on the schedule, that might be enough to make the playoffs. Certainly it would have given the Reign a shot.

Unfortunately, they lost 12 of 13 at home to start the season, which was ultimately the team’s downfall.

“I’ve seen us lose more at home than we would like to show them (the fans),” Taylor said.

Veteran defensemen Shawn Germain and David Walker had some strong thoughts on that topic. Both have talked about calling it a career after this season. Their approach to what could be the final week of their pro careers will be the focus of tomorrow’s story in the Sun and Daily Bulletin.

(Spoiler alert: Neither player has committed to retiring. Germain called his own bluff this year; Walker said he’s going to make up his mind for good after undergoing a pair of surgeries in the offseason.)

A few more notes:

Continue reading

The week ahead.

No practice today means no notebook in tomorrow’s editions of the Sun and Daily Bulletin. I don’t know what else it means, if anything, though the guess here is that it means Karl Taylor felt the team deserved an extra day off after pushing pretty hard last week – winning two out of three in Idaho and falling a couple minutes short in the third game.

Of course, it also means that none of the Reign’s final three regular-season games – beginning at home Wednesday against Bakersfield — aren’t as important as all those three-in-four series earlier in the season that warranted a Monday practice.

The Reign are out of playoff consideration, and I plan on asking around the locker room what the focus will be from here on out. Will we see more amateur tryout players and fewer veterans? Which of the veterans will choose to rest the injuries they’ve been playing through all year? Does Karl Taylor make any minor tweaks to the system, just to see if something works?

Expect that everyone will express his desire to put on a good show for the fans, who still lead the ECHL in attendance. There’s a splashy splash page currently adorning the team’s website that indicates as much.

Since there’s no notebook tomorrow, I’ll have an alumni update in my next blog …

Reign win, but are eliminated from the playoffs.

There will be hockey in Ontario again this year. Playoff hockey, however, will have to wait.

The Victoria Salmon Kings’ come-from-behind, 7-6 shootout win over the Stockton Thunder eliminated the Reign from the playoffs Friday, a couple hours after the Reign beat Idaho 3-2.

That the Reign were eliminated should come as little surprise. They had no margin for error beginning this week, needing to win their final six games and needing Victoria to lose their final seven.

The Salmon Kings didn’t cooperate. For the first time all season, they came back to win a game they trailed after two periods (5-3), pulling even with Stockton at 6-6 with 5:42 left in the third period.

If they win each of their last four games, the Reign can still match Victoria at 64 points in the standings should the Salmon Kings lose their final five games. But they cannot win more games than Victoria this season; the Reign would also lose the second tiebreaker having lost five of six head-to-head meetings.

All of which makes the game details somewhat moot. Beau Erickson won his second straight start, stopping 30 of 32 shots, and Jordan Morrison’s goal at 9:27 proved to be the game-winner.

Kyle Kraemer and Aaron Lewadniuk scored power-play goals and Alex Bourret had a pair of assists for the Reign. Lewadniuk re-entered the lineup after being held out Wednesday due to a back injury and switched places with Chaz Johnson, who was recalled to the AHL Thursday.

The Reign have another game in Idaho on Saturday night, before hosting three games next week to close the season.

Johnson gets the AHL call.

Justin Williams’ misfortune is Chaz Johnson’s good fortune … and the Reign’s misfortune.

Johnson was loaned to the AHL’s Manchester Monarchs on Thursday, the first AHL call-up for Johnson this season. The Reign’s leading goal-scorer (22) scored twice in a 4-3 win over the Idaho Steelheads on Wednesday to prolong the Reign’s chase for the final Western Conference playoff berth. Wednesday’s effort also continued a torrid stretch for Johnson — he’s scored 12 of his goals in his last 21 games after scoring only 11 in his first 39.

Now it looks like the Reign will have to take on the Steelheads on Friday without Johnson.

That’s because the Monarchs were down a right wing when the Kings recalled Oscar Moller on Wednesday. Moller, who ranked second on Manchester in goals and points at the time of his recall, was summoned to the NHL after Kings right wing Justin Williams suffered a shoulder injury Monday against Calgary. Williams isn’t expected to play for at least another four weeks — possibly not until next season — and the Kings will need someone to fill in at right wing in the meantime.

On the surface, that leaves Johnson’s immediate availability in doubt.

Johnson is second on the Reign in penalty minutes (127), tied for second in points (36) and leads the team in shots on goal (156). He’s played 72 AHL games in his career, recording three goals, five assists and 82 penalty minutes, but none since the 2008-09 season.

Reign 4, Idaho 3.

The Reign aren’t dead yet.

Michael Pelech’s second goal of the game at 15:31 broke a 3-3 tie and lifted the Reign to a win over Idaho in a back-and-forth game in Boise. Combined with the Victoria Salmon Kings’ 2-1 loss to the Bakersfield Condors, the Reign remain mathematically alive for the final Western Conference playoff berth.

Chaz Johnson scored the Reign’s first two goals, and Beau Erickson stopped 40 of 43 shots with Jase Weslosky (lower-body injury) being spelled by emergency backup Tony Davenport.

Johnson’s wrist shot gave the Reign a 1-0 lead at 6:10 of the first period. Kael Mouillierat and Aki Seitsonen answered to give Idaho a 2-1 lead before Johnson evened the score with his team-leading 22nd goal of the season with only 24 seconds left in the second period.

Kyle Kraemer found Pelech for the go-ahead goal at 5:14 of the third period, but the lead was short-lived. Dustin Friesen netted the Steelheads’ second power-play goal of the game at 7:12 to tie the game at 3. Idaho, which leads the ECHL in power-play efficiency, finished 2-for-4 with the man advantage.

But Pelech came through with his eighth goal of the season after Kraemer was stood up by an Idaho defender in the offensive zone, and Pelech raced to the net with the loose puck.

Dusty Carlson stopped 20 of 24 for the Steelheads, who host the Reign at 6:10 p.m. Friday.

Victoria, which has now lost two in a row after winning back-to-back games, visits Stockton at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Stockton is 7-3-0 this season against the Salmon Kings and has won three straight.

The Reign must win, and need the Salmon Kings to lose in regulation, in order to keep their microscopic playoff hopes alive.

Earlier Wednesday, the Reign claimed goalie Shane Connelly off waivers from Utah, likely as insurance for Weslosky.

The former University of Wisconsin standout has played for five ECHL teams in two professional seasons. In five games for Utah, Connelly went 1-2-0 with a 4.22 goals-against average and .880 save percentage. In 74 pro games, all at the ECHL level, he is 25-30-7-4 with a 3.26 GAA, .890 save percentage and five shutouts.

Brief notes from practice.

You would never know by watching the Reign practice that their season has been reduced to a prayer. The effort and the tempo were there – only a few players were missing.

Shawn Germain (maintenance), Jase Weslosky (lower body) and Aaron Lewadniuk (back) sat this one out. Weslosky was scheduled to be evaluated later today to determine his status for the upcoming road trip to Boise. Lewadniuk is day-to-day and seems more likely to go on the trip. More from him in tomorrow’s editions of the Sun and Daily Bulletin.

For my money, the most impressive sight in practice was that of Chad Starling. The veteran defenseman still hasn’t been cleared for contact or game play, as was his original hope, but he hasn’t given up on this season either. Unlike veteran teammates David Walker and Jon Francisco, Starling has given no indication that this season will be his last. But for a 30-year-old who hasn’t played a game since November, and underwent two surgeries in January, it would certainly be an accomplishment if he were to appear in a game before the season ends.

There hasn’t been any activity on the transactions wire, though former Reign center Dusty Collins saw his time in an Oklahoma City Barons jersey end after one game. He was released from his PTO today and is presumably on his way back to Florida.

Bakersfield 5, Reign 2.

In Victoria, two is a magic number.

I’m not sure what the opposite of “magic” is, but the same number is facing the Reign and it can’t feel nearly as good. Their loss in Bakersfield, combined with the Salmon Kings’ 3-2 loss to the Utah Grizzlies, puts the magic number — the combined number of Reign losses and Salmon Kings wins needed to eliminate the Reign from the playoffs — at two.

In plain English, the Reign could be eliminated as soon as Wednesday. That’s when both teams play next; Victoria is at Bakersfield and the Reign are at Idaho. Even if it doesn’t happen Wednesday, there’s a sinking sense of inevitability. The Reign have six games left in the regular season, the Salmon Kings have seven, and if the Reign are going to make the playoffs they will need to win at least five and see the Salmon Kings lose at least that many.

The game details seem somewhat muted by the circumstances, but here they are: Justin Taylor scored 43 seconds into the game and got into a fight with Bobby Robins 35 seconds later. Vyatcheslav Trukhno scored the first of two power-play goals by the Condors at 6:32 to tie the game at 1, and Adam Naglich scored short-handed at 3:18 of the second to make it 2-1 Condors.

Alex Bourret’s 10th goal of the season pulled the Reign even with 57 seconds left in the second period, but Joel Broda’s first goal of the game 11 seconds later restored the Condors’ one-goal lead. The Reign would never get the goal back — Broda scored again at 10:05 of the third and Trukhno provided the final score with an empty-net goal at 18:03.

Beau Erickson (39 saves) wound up the loser in his first start since March 15, a span of 15 days. The Reign were outshot 44-24 according to the final scoresheet and fell to 3-9-0-2 against the Condors for the season.

Aaron Lewadniuk did not play for the Reign, who went 0-for-4 on the power play and allowed two power-play goals by the Condors.

Bakersfield 3, Reign 1.

That sound coming from Bakersfield was the nail being hammered just a bit deeper into the Reign’s coffin.

Tonight’s loss to the Condors, combined with the Victoria Salmon Kings’ 5-2 win over the Utah Grizzlies, leaves the Reign (23-36-2-4, 52 points) nine points behind the Salmon Kings (29-32-1-2) for the final Western Conference playoff berth with seven games left in the regular season.

The Reign needed help to harbor any optimism about the playoffs — and got none from a Victoria team that has suddenly won two straight. They also got no help from a red-hot Condors squad that won its seventh straight game, and its 10th in 13 games against the Reign this season.

James McEwan scored the Reign’s only goal on a re-direction of a Luke Beaverson shot at 13:30 of the second period. Bobby Robins, Stephane Goulet and Phil Paquet scored the Bakersfield goals as Jase Weslosky stopped 35 of 38 shots. According to the unofficial stat sheet, the Reign were outshot 38-24.

After Friday’s turn of events it’s possible to see the end of the road: The Reign could be eliminated as early as next Wednesday, when they begin a three-game series in Idaho and the Salmon Kings visit Bakersfield.

The Reign play the Condors again at 7 p.m. Saturday. Utah and Victoria play again Saturday, too.