Starling update, and a pumpkin.

I chatted with ECHL commissioner Brian McKenna this morning about Chad Starling’s saga, and whether it would result in a change to the league’s immigration policy. McKenna, who read the story, said the league already takes a hard-line approach to contracted players entering the country on a work visa, and it’s up to the teams to be in full compliance. (That’s the Reader’s Digest version at least, check out tomorrow’s editions of the Sun and Daily Bulletin for the full story.)

Justin Kemp acknowledged that the Reign weren’t in compliance when Starling presented his letter to the border guard in Sweetgrass, Montana on Sept. 29. But he also said that, as minor-league hockey teams with small to non-existent profit margins, “we need to find every way we can to operate economically and competitively.”

I’ve come to a handful of conclusions about this topic:
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Chad Starling is released: ‘I don’t know what I’m going to do.’

For the first time in Reign history, Chad Starling is not on the roster.

The 31-year-old, who played more ECHL games in the 2000s than any defenseman, was released from his contract today. Speaking via phone from his home in Saskatchewan, Starling said he was notified this afternoon on a phone call with head coach Jason Christie.

“Didn’t have room,” Starling said. “He said he didn’t have enough apartments and didn’t have enough room on the IR.”

Starling never made it to Ontario this year because of an immigration issue – one we’ll explain in further detail soon – and was the victim both of bad luck and a numbers game. He played 158 games in a Reign uniform, trailing only David Walker (210) and Tim Kraus (159) in team history, but none since November of last year, when his season was cut short by a groin injury he sustained in practice.

Now healthy and approved to work in America, Starling has no place to play for the moment.

“I’m going to go home and unpack my truck and my clothes,” he said. “After getting screwed around for three weeks, I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’ve got something to fall back on, my parents’ business. I’m lucky. Not all the guys have that. I’ve been playing for 10 years. I’ve been playing for a long time. My first year, the price of gas was 99 cents a gallon. A lot has changed since then.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

Starling had three goals, 20 assists and 199 penalty minutes for the Reign playing the role of a stay-at-home, shutdown defenseman under Karl Taylor. He had played for Jason Christie before in ECHL stops with Peoria and Utah.

The Reign have a game tonight in Las Vegas.

New defenseman, plus a Chad Starling update.

Vincent LoVerde is the Reign’s newest defenseman. The rookie out of Miami (Ohio) University averaged 1.5 goals and 7.5 assists in his four-year college career, which ended when the top-seeded RedHawks were upset in the first round of the NCAA tournament in March.

LoVerde wasn’t at practice Thursday but Jason Christie said he’ll be in the lineup tomorrow night in Las Vegas. Eddie DelGrosso, who was claimed off waivers Wednesday, wasn’t at practice either and was still awaiting a physical. Christie is hopeful that DelGrosso can play, too.

Just to recap, then:

Jason Fredricks, Pat Bowen, Dylan Yeo, Chad Starling, Jordan Hill and Adrian van de Mosselaer signed over the summer. Jeff MacPhee, Iain McPhee and Travis Gawryletz signed during training camp. Steven Tarasuk, Mike Montgomery, Philippe Seydoux, JP Cote, Eddie DelGrosso and Vincent LoVerde either signed or were acquired through trade since the regular season began.

So even though the Reign have skated the same six defensemen in their first two regular-season games, 15 different blueliners have been under contract to the team since July 1.

Fifteen. Through two games. Let that sink in.
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Injuries piling up, more cuts, Berube assigned.

Monday was a big day of news for the Reign, and most of it was bad.

First, the very bad: Winger Kyle Kraemer and defenseman Pat Bowen will both start the season on injured reserve with lower-body injuries they suffered in Sunday’s 3-1 win over the Las Vegas Wranglers. Both are expected to miss 2-6 weeks.

The growing list of injured players now includes defenseman Jason Fredricks (knee), defenseman Adrian van de Mosselaer (mononucleosis), Kraemer and Bowen. In addition, there is still no resolution to Chad Starling’s immigration issue, leaving the Reign without four of the seven defensemen they signed over the summer — five, if you include Jordan Hill, who is starting the season with AHL affiliate Manchester.

Depending on your point of view, it’s either a bad omen for the rest of the season or good timing. Including Mike Montgomery, a rookie out of Minnesota-Duluth whom Christie signed Monday, the Reign will be able to start the season with six defenseman (Dylan Yeo, Jeff MacPhee, Iain McPhee, Travis Gawryletz and Philippe Seydoux are the others). Once the others get healthy, and Starling is allowed to cross the border, Christie will have plenty of blue-line options at his disposal.
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Chad Starling is healthy and coming back.

Chad Starling’s goal in his fourth season with the Ontario Reign is simple.

“I want to play every game,” he said. “Last year was the first year I got hurt. The year before that I played every game but one. The year before that, I played every game. In Cincinnati, I didn’t miss many games [11 in two years]. In Utah, I played every game. That’s the first goal.”

The team announced Monday that Starling has re-signed for an unprecedented fourth season in Ontario. He might be the only player from the inaugural team who returns but, ironically, the 30-year-old defenseman has a little something to prove.

Starling did not play a game after November of last season because of groin injuries, and underwent two surgeries in January. Starling almost made it back — and said he would have played if the Reign made the playoffs – but ultimately wound up playing just 14 games, easily the shortest of his 10 pro seasons.

Starling said he’ll be healthy to start the season and plans to resume skating in 2-3 weeks.

Since David Walker is playing in Germany and Jon Francisco’s return from knee injury is no sure thing, Starling could be the last player from the original Reign squad still in Ontario. That could make him the logical choice for team captain, a role he held from 2006-08 with the Cincinnati Cyclones.

More on Starling’s health, his thoughts on the captaincy, and what the Reign needs to do to get back on the playoffs, in tomorrow’s editions of the Sun and Daily Bulletin.

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.

Poll: Should the Reign bring back Chad Starling?

The rundown on defenseman Chad Starling:

2010-11 stats [career]: 0 goals, 1 point, minus-1 rating, 16 penalty minutes in 14 games.

Quote: “This is honestly the first summer in five years that I haven’t had surgery at the end of the year. I’m healthy for the summer so I can go home and start training.”

Pros: After undergoing two surgeries in January, Starling was still in good enough shape that he could have played in the playoffs. What the “goalie’s best friend” brings is no secret — a physical presence around the net, leadership on and off the ice, and the best shootout move in the league. Starling’s experience would be especially valuable if David Walker and Jon Francisco don’t return.

Cons: The 6-foot-6 defenseman must prove that his injuries are behind him. Specifically, that his skating and mobility – which were not assets before his surgeries – won’t be a major liability at age 31.

Chad Starling post-season quotes.

Chad Starling was a forgotten man around Ontario after he suffered what seemed like a fairly innocuous injury in practice in late November. Less than two months later, he went in for surgery to repair a sports hernia and an adductor muscle, and his season was over.

One of the great “what if”s of 2010-11 is what if Starling hadn’t gotten hurt. Remember that fellow shutdown defenseman Luke Beaverson also missed a month spanning December and January, and their combined absence was especially brutal. Starling’s final stat line: 14 games, no goals, 1 assist and a minus-1 rating.

He shared his thoughts on the impact of his injury, and his interesting summer plans:

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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:

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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.