Voting open for ECHL “Silver Skater” team.

This is usually the time of year when the ECHL is making preparations for its annual All-Star Game. However, for the first time since 1993, there will be no game this season.

In its stead is something much cheaper and arguably more fun. Through February 5, fans can vote online for the “2012 Silver Skater Fantasy Team,” a concept that seems entirely unique based on its description on the ECHL website.

Fans are allowed one vote per e-mail address to choose one player on each team who will wear a “special Silver Skater jersey” during a select home game. There are no criteria for how to vote. You could, conceivably, vote for the worst player on each team — although this appears to be discouraged by listing four players under each team’s logo (they all seem to be having good seasons). Write-in votes are allowed, however. The top two vote-getters will wear the special jersey.

We don’t know what the jerseys will look like, but an educated guess is that the snazzy logo you see at right will be featured prominently. No word yet as to when the Reign have scheduled their “Silver Skater” home game.

The four Reign players listed are C.J. Stretch, Derek Couture, Vincent LoVerde and Chris Huxley. It’s tempting to list the merits of each player at this point, but since there really are no voting criteria, it’s hard to tell where to begin. (Who looks best in silver??)

Still, as alternate ideas go, this one has its merits. The concept of minor-league all-star games is inherently flawed, since the best players in the league are getting promoted to the AHL on a daily basis. Staging a game is a logistical headache — just ask anyone who was around when the ECHL All-Star Game was played at CBBA in 2010. This is less formal and less expensive and, thus, more appropriate to the concept. Even if it has no criteria.

Reign 4, Stockton 2.

The Reign probably won’t frame Tuesday’s victory and hang it on a wall, but it could serve as a good jolt in the arm. (The team actually has some framed photographs of victory scenes hanging around their locker room, so the cliche works.)

Despite getting pushed around for the better part of three periods, and playing sloppy, turnover-prone hockey on occasion, they left CBBA with a series-opening 4-2 win. Chris Cloud had a “Gordie Howe Hat Trick” — a goal, assist and fight — and the line of Geoff Irwin, C.J. Stretch and Derek Couture dominated the Thunder all night, combining for three goals, four assists and a plus-4 rating.

Stretch in particular was being draped all night, but still managed to shed the defense for a goal and two assists — both primary assists from behind the net on goals by Irwin.

“It’s frustrating for him,” Couture said. “Teams are going to look at his stats, see that Stretch is leading the team in points and play hard on him. … He fought through it.”

On a night when the Reign were outshot 37-23, the final score could have been quite a bit higher. But Darcy Kuemper heated up as the game went along, stopping 35 of 37 shots – including 16 in the final 20 minutes.

J.D. Watt had two assists, defenseman Chris Huxley played a solid defensive game and finished plus-3, and Shayne Neigum delivered a spirited bout with Stockton’s Jordan Foreman in the third period.

Plenty more details in tomorrow’s editions of the Sun and Daily Bulletin. A few notes that won’t make the paper:

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Reign 4, Bakersfield 1.

The Reign are on a roll.

There wasn’t much to complain about after a 4-1 win that saw four players score goals, a perfect 7-for-7 effort on the penalty kill and a 2-for-4 power play performance. Darcy Kuemper made 22 saves and didn’t have to be spectacular in improving to 4-0-0 on the season.

Matt Tassone, C.J. Stretch, Chris Cloud and Bill Bagron scored the goals. Steven Tarasuk had two assists, while Shayne Neigum, Brady Calla, Francois Brisebois and Bagron had one each. Bagron also finished a plus-2 on the evening.

The win was the Reign’s third straight (during which they’ve outscored opponents 14-4) and their fourth in the last five games (a 4-0-1 stretch).

No home games for another eight days, but the Reign are in Alaska Friday, Saturday and Sunday for three games against the Aces.

Election night meant early deadlines, which meant I didn’t have as much time as usual after this game for quote- and information-gathering, but here’s a few items that won’t make tomorrow’s game story:

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Reign 4, Stockton 2.

The Reign had a full week off since their last game and the practice seemed to pay off. They never trailed in their 4-2 win Friday, getting goals from Steven Tarasuk, C.J. Stretch, Matt Tassone and Francois Brisebois. Darcy Kuemper allowed a pair of breakaway goals to Ian O’Connor but made all the routine saves, and one amazing save in the final minute, among his 21 stops.

The power play finished 2-for-4 on the goals by Tarasuk and Stretch — the first goal of the year for both players — after going 2-for-22 to start the season. Dylan Yeo had two assists and Tassone, Tarasuk, Brisebois, Stretch, Brady Calla and Chris Huxley (making his Reign debut) had one assist each. Huxley was paired with Vincent LoVerde and both defensemen finished plus-2 for the game.

Christie had words of praise for Huxley, as well as a strong overall forechecking effort that stifled Stockton at even strength.

Derek Couture fought Garet Hunt in the first period (advantage: Couture), Shayne Neigum fought O’Connor in the second period (advantage: O’Connor), and Stretch nearly came to blows with Jordan Fulton late in the first period. A scrum just after the final horn sounded was broken up before it could fully materialize.

J-F Berube gets the start tomorrow.

Check out tomorrow’s editions of the Sun and Daily Bulletin for more. Here’s the official scoresheet.

Reign 3, Stockton 2, shootout.

Darcy Kuemper was victorious in his ECHL debut and Geoff Irwin’s forehand past Olivier Roy was the game-winner in the Reign’s first win of the season Saturday night.

C.J. Stretch and Steven Tarasuk also scored shootout goals for the Reign (1-1), who get a respite until traveling to Vegas next Friday. Kuemper stopped 28 of 30 shots.

Bill Bagron deposited a beautiful backhand feed from Dylan Yeo at 16:12 of the second period for the game’s first goal. Francois Brisebois got the Reign’s only power-play goal in six tries with 3.5 seconds left in the middle period. Standing in front of the crease, he took a Derek Couture pass from behind the net – then took a shot in the back after poking the puck between the pads of Olivier Roy (33 saves).

Bagron and Brisebois both have two goals on the season.

Head coach Jason Christie liked the overall effort better than Friday’s.

“They stuck their nose in there and made some good plays,” he said. “That’s a key at this level – you have to win the battles. We’re losing battles down low, and it’s a rush against. We definitely have to make sure we get better on that.”

More details in tomorrow’s editions of the Sun and Daily Bulletin. Here are a few more observations:

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Camp notes: Beefing up on ‘D’, the plan for Saturday, etc.

If this were the regular season, it wouldn’t be a story. But since it’s training camp, a time when coaches are supposed to have more players than locker stalls, the fact that the Reign still only have five defensemen on the ice is sticking out like a sore knee (Jason Fredricks), a case of mononucleosis (Adrian van de Mosselaer) or an unexpected immigration hang-up (Chad Starling).

The group grew by one today, to five, when Travis Gawryletz was cleared to join on-ice activities. Gawryletz (pronounced GAR-lits) came from the Manchester Monarchs’ camp and becomes the fifth player in Ontario with at least 30 games of AHL experience over the two last seasons (Dylan Yeo, J.D. Watt, Brady Calla and Derek Couture are the others).

Gawryletz was beaten out for an AHL roster spot by Jordan Hill, who re-signed with the Reign over the summer, but was whisked away when the Monarchs signed him to an AHL contract yesterday. Both defensemen were in the Monarchs’ camp on tryouts.

Fredricks and van de Mosslaer aren’t expected to be ready until November, while Starling’s arrival date remains up in the air. That means that Jason Christie has some work to do if he wants three defense pairs in time for Saturday’s exhibition opener against Las Vegas.

“We have to take a different avenue now because we had (Hill) penciled in,” Christie said. “Gotta work the phones. Got two days to get it done.”

Some more notes:
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C.J. Stretch gets training camp invite from Kings.

Reign center C.J. Stretch will join the Kings’ main training camp on a pro tryout contract. The camp begins Saturday at 8:30 a.m. at Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo.

Stretch had nine goals and 21 points in 46 games with the Reign last season, his first full pro season after five years in the Western Hockey League. The 22-year-old center is an alumnus of the California Wave program. He was invited to the Sharks’ rookie camp in 2009, but hadn’t gotten a look from any NHL teams since.

Reign defenseman Jordan Hill was expected to be at the Kings’ camp too, but will be home in Canada recuperating from off-season hip surgery during the month of September.

Stretch, Bowen accept qualifying offers.

The Reign brought their number of returning players to eight Tuesday, announcing that defenseman Pat Bowen and C.J. Stretch had accepted qualifying offers. Both were complimentary players who finished the season stronger than they began as rookies in 2010-11.

Bowen had three goals, 13 points, 32 penalty minutes, and a minus-10 rating in 52 games. The former Merrimack College standout might not have been
outstanding at any one thing, but was playing reliable minutes in
power-play, penalty kill, and even-strength situations by the end of the season.

At 6-foot-1, 195 pounds, Bowen adds a decent dose of size to a blue line that already includes 6-foot-6 veteran Chad Starling and 6-foot-2 Jason Fredricks. If there’s one thing missing from that trio, it’s scoring touch – the three combined for four goals between them last season. While those stats were limited by a lack of opportunity (Starling only appeared in 14 games, Fredricks 39) expect head coach Karl Taylor to target a potential power-play quarterback with his remaining blue line additions.

Stretch, a native of nearby Irvine, finished his first full pro season with nine goals and 21 points in 46 games. Always among the team’s most creative offensive players, he was
finally playing regular minutes, scoring consistently, and defending
reasonably well by the end of the season.  He also
single-handedly brought at least a dozen patrons to the stands at every
home game.

The 22-year-old joins a forward corps that includes center Jordan Morrison and winger Kyle Kraemer. That’s a group with plenty of offensive potential, but not much of a physical presence. As the forwards are concerned, it appears Taylor is addressing the need for power play candidates before the need for penalty killers.

Goalies Jase Weslosky and Beau Erickson also re-signed for 2011-12.

Reign qualify eight.

Eight players received qualifying offers from the Reign on Friday: Aaron Lewadniuk, Jordan Morrison, Luke Beaverson, Jordan Hill, Lane Caffaro, Brett O’Malley, Pat Bowen and C.J. Stretch.

Some things to remember:

• The Reign have probably already re-signed some other players, so these eight players are not the starting point for next year’s roster. All we know is that none of them have signed a contract yet.

• The qualifying offer remains open until August 1, or until it is accepted by the player, during which time he cannot be traded.

• History tells us that most guys will either decline their offers, or somehow wind up playing elsewhere. For example, in 2009 the Reign qualified eight players and only three (Mike Howe, Andrew Martens, Dan Knapp) wound up playing in Ontario the following season. Darren McMillan, Jason Techjma, Dale Reinhardt, Dusty Collins and Kellen Briggs all moved on. In 2010, two qualified players came back (Mike Zacharias and James McEwan), and the other six (Greg Hogeboom, Jon Rheault, Geoff Walker, Curtis Darling Peter Lenes and Chris Curran) moved on.

• Players that were not signed by today or extended a qualifying offer become unrestricted free agents.

• The ECHL allows up to eight players to be qualified.

Reign announce season-ending roster.

The Reign have announced their season-ending roster, a list of 20 players of whom eight can be tendered qualifying offers no later than July 1:

Jordan Hill, Jase Weslosky, Jordan Morrison, Kyle Kraemer, Jason Fredricks, C.J. Stretch, Aaron Lewadniuk, Beau Erickson, Pat Bowen, Luke Beaverson, James McEwan, Brett O’Malley, Lane Caffaro, Craig Gaudet, Alex Bourret, Doug Krantz, Kellen Briggs, Chaz Johnson, David Walker and Matt Delahey.

Of the players who finished 2010-11 with the Reign, six are missing from the list:

• Forward Michael Pelech, who was assigned to the Reign by the Manchester Monarchs.

• Five veterans (as defined by the ECHL): Shawn Collymore, Shawn Germain, Jon Francisco, Chad Starling and Justin Taylor. Reign coach Karl Taylor has stated that he doesn’t send qualifying offers to veterans out of principle, since they can decline the offer and become a free agent without any possible compensation to the Reign.

Walker is a veteran. But the captain said that he expects to play in Europe next season [more on this in a future blog], so a qualifying offer sent to him would probably come with little consequence.

Also, note that teams are not required to extend a qualifying offer to players who sign a contract prior to July 1.

All the ECHL season-ending rosters can be found here.