Reign 4, Las Vegas 2.

Needing a win to keep their diminishing playoff hopes alive, the Reign responded with their second win this week against the Las Vegas Wranglers.

Jase Weslosky turned in another strong performance, stopping 27 of 29 shots, and getting goals from Aaron Lewdniuk, Kyle Kraemer, Shawn Germain and Justin Taylor – the latter coming into an empty net with 44 seconds remaining.

The Reign are now seven points behind the seventh-place Victoria Salmon Kings, who won on Wednesday and have played one fewer game (64 to 63). That leaves the Reign with eight games to make up seven or more points in the standings.

At least now they have some semblance of momentum on their side. The response to a 1-0, first-period deficit was rather impressive; the Reign scored three unanswered goals to start the second period and, ultimately, put the game away. Weslosky turned aside all nine shots he faced in the third to preserve the win.

Brett O’Malley had two assists, while Lewadniuk, Taylor and Jordan Morrison had one helper each.

Not that it will be needed for any playoff tiebreakers, but the win allowed the Reign to win the head-to-head season series with the Wranglers, five games to four. Las Vegas is the only Western Conference team against whom the Reign have a winning record.

Zacharias out, Morton released.

Mike Zacharias was placed on waivers today, and the Reign will head to Las Vegas tonight with goalies Jase Weslosky and Beau Erickson on the active roster.

Given the starter’s job after Erickson dislocated his sacrociliac joint in a game on March 4, Zacharias could not take advantage of the opportunity. He lost his last three starts while posting a 5.69 goals-against average, which prompted Taylor to trade for Weslosky at last Friday’s deadline.

Overall, Zacharias went 4-9-1-1 with a 3.75 GAA after the Reign claimed him off waivers.

Also Thursday, the Reign released Alex Morton from his amateur tryout contract. The rookie left wing from Fredonia State picked up an assist in his pro debut, but played limited minutes in his only three games with the Reign.

The Reign play the Wranglers at Orleans Arena at 7 p.m. tonight.

Notes from an optional practice. Update.

Practice was optional today, but there was quite a crowd on hand to watch. Some local elementary-school children sat in the CBBA stands, and took a brief tour of the building, giving Shawn Germain some valuable practice should he ever aspire to be a field trip coordinator.

It was an eventful morning hockey-wise, too. Craig Gaudet arrived from Alaska; he and former college roommate Jase Weslosky had some time to catch up. Shawn Collymore, who hasn’t played since suffering an ankle injury Feb. 23, said he “noticed a huge difference today, 20 to 30 percent better.” He’s questionable for the Reign’s next game Thursday in Las Vegas.

Beau Erickson, who dislocated his sacroiliac joint March 4, reported some progress after practice, his longest since the injury.

“It’s something I will play through,” he declared. “I’m hoping Thursday I’ll be healthy enough to play.”

Karl Taylor sounded more cautious, a luxury afforded by Weslosky’s strong start Saturday. “We’re not going to rush the situation,” he said. IR is still a possibility for Erickson, mainly because the Reign have to add Gaudet to the active roster today and will need to take someone else off.

More in tomorrow’s notebook. A couple more items from the chopping block:

• Doug Krantz’s first goal of the season Friday could be re-credited to someone else. Taylor said that the shot appeared to touch a stick before going into the net. Whether it was deflected by a Reign stick or a Wranglers stick will affect the final verdict.

• James McEwan offered a strong thought on his four-game suspension for punching Simon Ferguson: “If they’re trying to send a message,” he said, “I’m not sure what message they’re trying to send.”

• Brad Sholl, who last professional experience came with the Los Angeles Blades of the Roller Hockey International (RHI) league, was the goalie for the Kings’ alumni team on Saturday. Sholl is the manager at Toyota Sports Center, the Kings’ practice rink, and a local youth goalie instructor.

Update: Mike Zacharias is going on 3-day IR to make room for Gaudet.

Reign 3, Las Vegas 1.

Frequent visitors to my blog(s) know I don’t name-drop, so I am truly making an exception tonight.

A couple weeks ago NHL defenseman-turned-broadcaster Larry Murphy was in Los Angeles for the Kings-Red Wings game. I caught up with him afterward and started talking about the 2006 playoffs, specifically how the Red Wings got bounced in the first round by the Edmonton Oilers. Detroit was stacked that year — Yzerman, Shanahan and Chelios were nearing the end, but still effective; Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Samuelsson were entering their prime; Nick Lidstrom was Nick Lidstrom.

Murphy was making the point that, after the Wings lost in six games, people tended to over-analyze the loss. The reason they lost was simple — the goalie, Manny Legace, didn’t have a good series. Especially in the playoffs, that’s often all that matters.

Jase Weslosky isn’t Dwayne Roloson, but his 35-save performance was the difference in the Reign’s win on Saturday.
Continue reading

Las Vegas 7, Reign 4.

Mike Zacharias summed up the collective frustration in the building by tossing his stick when the game’s final goal sailed into the Reign net.

“It’s not them scoring on our goalie, it’s them scoring on us,” David Walker said. “We all take a piece of the pie.”

But clearly the Reign need more than the tandem of Zacharias and emergency backup Dennis Cook, who can’t play unless Zacharias is hurt. That’s why Karl Taylor, who almost never names his starting goalie, named Jase Weslosky the starting goalie for Saturday night’s game against Las Vegas — and Weslosky wasn’t even in Ontario yet.

The Wranglers’ seventh goal, by Ryan Huddy, was one of only two Zacharias allowed that you would expect the goalie to make most of the time. The other five were the result of defensive-zone turnovers, missed backchecks, and odd-man rushes against — the unholy triumvirate of defensive lapses that has doomed the Reign all season.

That said, Zacharias was lucky that he didn’t give up nine goals. One shot trickled through between his legs, got behind him and was heading for the goal line before Alex Bourret (goal, assist) swept it out. Another scoring chance ended when Justin Bernhardt hit the post in front of a wide-open net from — no joke — three feet away.

Doug Krantz, Kyle Kraemer, C.J. Stretch and Bourret scored the goals; Kraemer and Bourret’s came on the power play. The Reign outshot an opponent for the second straight game (40-31) and their offense was humming so well, it wasn’t unreasonable to expect a comeback from down 6-4. That’s why Huddy’s goal, with 2:02 left, was so frustrating.

More on the Weslosky and Craig Gaudet trades in tomorrow’s editions of the Sun and Daily Bulletin. A few more notes/observations:
Continue reading

Reign lose 6-3, plus more on Johnson, McEwan and Alex Morton.

The Reign lost in almost typical fashion. Take away the final three minutes of the first period, and they played one of their better games in recent memory – getting more scoring chances, more shots on goal, and more time in the offensive zone than Idaho. That doesn’t happen often.

Of course, you can’t take away those inexplicable three minutes of hockey in which Idaho scored three goals – twice on the power play and again at even strength.

“That’s kind of been the problem we’ve had all year, putting a 60-minute game together,” David Walker said. “Yeah, it’s one of our better games. We got blocked shots, put a lot of shots on net, did a lot of things we wanted to do at the start of the game. But when a team has a power play that good, you can’t give them opportunity after opportunity to do it.”

Walker went on to point out that playing well means little. Alaska is on its way to beating Victoria (the game is currently in the third period). Assuming the 4-2 score holds, the Reign would be left with 11 games in which to make up nine points on the seventh-place Salmon Kings to make the playoffs. So long as the Reign have at least five games to play, and Victoria keeps losing – a loss tonight would be its fourth straight – there’s a chance.

The Reign played without Chaz Johnson and James McEwan; tomorrow’s editions
of the Sun and Daily Bulletin will have plenty on the Reign’s reaction
to the ECHL suspensions. I didn’t have room for many details on the game, so here are a few:
Continue reading

McEwan, Johnson suspended, fined along with two Utah players.

Chaz Johnson and James McEwan will miss the Reign’s game tonight against the Idaho Steelheads. Both were suspended – Johnson for one game, McEwan for four – along with Simon Ferguson (five games) and Riley Emmerson (one) for their actions in Saturday’s game between the Reign and Utah Grizzlies.

All four players were fined an undisclosed amount by the league.

I have left a message with the ECHL, which does not usually comment on suspensions/fines, and will try to get comments from both Reign players tonight.

Considering the Reign only have 12 games left in the season, the loss of McEwan for one-third of those games is especially impactful. He will not be able to return until the Reign visit Bakersfield March 18. He and Johnson are arguably the team’s most physical players, an element that could be noticeably missing tonight against the Steelheads.

Chaz Johnson comments on Simon Ferguson incident.

Two days after Utah Grizzlies forward Simon Ferguson used the “N-word” in a verbal altercation with Reign forward Chaz Johnson on Saturday, Reign coach Karl Taylor addressed the situation again in a team meeting prior to the team’s off-ice workout Monday.

Besides the vile and derogatory nature of the word itself, it’s an explosive situation for a few reasons.

To say Johnson lost his cool in the moment would be an understatement; he tried to leave the Reign bench and climb onto the Utah bench to retaliate against Ferguson, who was standing a few feet away from Johnson during the argument but then walked away after using the racial slur. Johnson had to be restrained by teammates and leave the game.

“To give me an opportunity to get back into the game, and line up with someone who just said that to me, I don’t think it would have been a fight,” Johnson said. “I think it would have been more than that, and probably my other type of sense level would have probably kicked in. Something probably would have happened that would have ended my hockey career. I think it was better to take myself out and let myself calm down.”

Neither Taylor nor any player I spoke to for the story (including Shawn Collymore, whose father is black), had heard the word used in a professional hockey game. As James McEwan said, “it’s tough to know what to do after that.”

The Reign’s enforcer did what he felt was his job. He told Ferguson they were going to fight in the second period, then punched the Utah forward even after Ferguson decided not to drop his gloves after being given what McEwan felt was fair warning.

It’s up to the ECHL to decide what to do next. Taylor, who has coached in the league since 2005, was not aware of a similar incident ever occurring during his time behind an ECHL bench. A Utah Grizzlies spokesperson said the league is investigating multiple incidents from the game. Any announcement of supplemental discipline should come before the Grizzlies’ next game, at home against Stockton on Wednesday.

Though the Grizzlies said Ferguson won’t comment while the league is investigating, Johnson said that he received a call from Ferguson on Sunday to apologize. Johnson also received a phone call from Reign president Justin Kemp — “just a show of support.”

McEwan said he’s known Ferguson for a few years. Both are British Columbia natives who honed their junior chops with the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets. Check out his comments in tomorrow’s editions of the Sun and Daily Bulletin.

I don’t often transcribe entire, long interviews word-for-word, but here were my questions for Johnson and his answers:
Continue reading

Utah 5, Reign 1.

Tom May and the Utah Grizzlies capitalized on 10 power plays in a penalty-filled Reign loss in West Valley City.

May had three of the Grizzlies’ four power-play goals in a game that saw the Reign go 0-for-6 with the man advantage.

Goalie Mike Zacharias faced a 48-shot barrage and stopped 43 with last night’s starter, Beau Erickson, out due to injury. Oliver Freij, a local college student, served as the emergency backup.

James McEwan had 22 of the Reign’s 62 penalty minutes, including a 10-minute misconduct and a match penalty for fighting at 8:14 of the second period. Alex Bourret and Giffen Nyren fought twice; Jordan Hill fought former Reign defenseman Brian Kilburg; and Kyle Kraemer fought Marcus Carroll.

Utah collected 56 penalty minutes of its own in the final meeting between the two teams this season. Ryley Grantham, who had not collected a single penalty minute in his three previous games with the Grizzlies, was awarded 16 in a single third-period altercation with Luke Beaverson.

Defenseman Pat Bowen scored the Reign’s lone goal, at the end of an odd-man rush at 7:41 of the second period.

The scoresheet changed roughly a dozen times within a half-hour of last night’s game, so take this link with a grain of salt.

The Victoria Salmon Kings (27-2-91-2) lost 5-2 to the Bakersfield Condors to remain nine points ahead of the Reign (21-33-2-4, 48 points) in the race for the final Western Conference playoff spot. The clock is ticking on the Reign’s season – they have 12 games left, Victoria has 13 left, and they need to make up at least nine points. Those odds are beyond long.

The Reign get four days off before hosting the Idaho Steelheads on Wednesday.