Johnson released by Manchester.

An update from the AHL, where the number of Reign players on playoff rosters dropped by one Tuesday.

The Manchester Monarchs released Chaz Johnson just two days before their first-round series with the Binghamton Senators — Johnson’s last AHL employer — was scheduled to begin. Johnson appeared in four games with the Monarchs, skating as a bottom-six right wing, collecting two penalty minutes and no points in four games.

Still dotting AHL rosters are Dwight King, Bud Holloway, Jordan Nolan, Patrick Mullen, Jordan Hill, Martin Jones and Jeff Zatkoff (Manchester); Beau Erickson (Peoria); Geoff Walker (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton); Andrew Martens (Lake Erie) and Colten Teubert (Oklahoma City).

Including Jon Rheault, who ended the season with the Abbotsford Heat (who didn’t make the Calder Cup playoffs), that’s 12 former Reign players who ended the regular season at the next level.

G. Walker leaves impression in AHL opener.

The Reign didn’t practice on the ice today, so we turn to the AHL for some blog material …

Geoff Walker had an assist and a shootout goal in the Wilkes-Barre Penguins’ 4-3 shootout win on opening night Saturday. He was named first star of the game here. According to the Scranton Times-Tribune,

“I kind of saw that maybe his blocker side was a little weak,” said
winger Geoff Walker, who beat Holtby with a pretty, top-shelf backhand
shot. “He made some real nice glove saves in the third. I think the
mindset from us was, ‘Let’s go blocker and let’s get him moving.’ We did
that and it worked out for us tonight.”

Update from the AHL.

Tomorrow is an important day in the American Hockey League, as teams must submit their rosters by midnight (i.e., one minute after 11:59 p.m. Thursday).

Unlike the NHL, where opening-day rosters were submitted today, there is no league-mandated limit on the number of players an AHL team can keep. However, teams are constrained by their internal budgets, ability to provide housing, lockers and travel, just like the ECHL.

Two Reign players signed to ECHL contracts remain on the Manchester Monarchs’ camp roster: forward Jordan Morrison and defenseman Jordan Hill. The Monarchs have 26 players in camp, and a team spokesperson said another round of cuts are likely tomorrow.

Center Dusty Collins, who re-signed with the Reign this summer, is also in an AHL camp with the San Antonio Rampage. So are 29 other players; no idea when their next round of cuts will come, but count on having some idea where he will start the season by Friday.

Meanwhile, in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., former Reign forward Geoff Walker is one of six players on the bubble for one of the AHL Penguins’ final “two or three” forward positions. Penguins coach John Hynes told the Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader that Walker might also play center – always a good sign when a coach is willing to try a position switch just to keep a player on his roster. Walker didn’t play any center the last two seasons with the Reign.

Keep in mind also that the Reign can still receive compensation from the Wheeling Nailers in exchange for Walker’s ECHL rights. Reign coach Karl Taylor said that the more games Walker plays in Wheeling, the better player(s) he can receive in return.

Flames assign Rheault to AHL.

Former Reign forward Jon Rheault is heading back to the American Hockey League after he was cut from the Calgary Flames’ training camp late Sunday. Rheault, who spent parts of his first two professional seasons with the Reign, had one goal and four penalty minutes in five preseason games with the Flames.

His reaction, from Monday’s Calgary Sun:

“It’s not a good feeling to be sent down, no matter from where,” said
Rheault, who played for four different minor-league teams last season.
“Unfortunately, I’ve had a lot of experience with that.”

Looking at the positives, Rheault has come a long way from Providence College and an uncertain hockey future.

“If you said to me five months ago that I’d be one of the last cuts
at an NHL camp, I wouldn’t have believed it,” he said. “I can definitely
taste the NHL and see it.”

In other Reign alumni news, Geoff Walker is one of three players battling for six forward positions with the Wilkes-Barre Penguins, Pittsburgh’s AHL affiliate.

Reign welcome Bureau, re-welcome Collins.

The Reign announced the signing of two centers Friday — one of whom should be familiar to denizens of The Bank.

Dusty Collins, who played in 24 games for the Reign in 2008-09, has re-signed with the only ECHL team he’s ever played for. The former fifth-round NHL draft pick (Tampa Bay Lightning, 2004) played in 11 AHL games in 2006-07, then spent the entire 2007-08 season with the Central Hockey League’s Arizona Sundogs before signing with the expansion Reign.

Collins had six goals and 14 points in his brief stint in Ontario. He spent the rest of 2008-09 with the Manchester Monarchs (4+2=6 in 16 games) and the Manitoba Moose (7+1=8 in 34 games), who re-signed him to an AHL contract prior to last season.

Collins had two goals, four points and 93 penalty minutes in 70 games with the Moose in 2009-10. The 25-year-old also appeared in five AHL playoff games, scoring one goal.

He’ll compete in training camp for ice time with rookie Pierre-Andre Bureau.

The 26-year-old was a standout in the QMJHL before moving on to a five-year career with the University of Moncton — a French-language university in New Brunswick that competes in CIS. He’s coming off a nine-goal, 24-point season in 28 games. The 5-11, 183-pound center averaged more than a point per game (14+20=34 in ’08-09 and 14+19=33 in ’07-08) the previous two seasons in Moncton.

With the Prince Edward Island Rocket in the QMJHL, Bureau was a teammate of current Montreal Canadiens forward Maxim Lapierre, and an opponent of former Reign forward Geoff Walker.

The PEI Rocket retired Bureau’s #22 jersey in 2009. The St. Georges Beauce, Quebec native holds the QMJHL record for most games played with a single team (346) and played his rookie season under assistant coach Daniele Sauvageau, the first female coach in QMJHL history.

Greg Hogeboom explains his decision to sign in the CHL.

About halfway through my conversation with Greg Hogeboom, I told him that this sounded a lot like the conversation I had with Andrew Martens, his Reign teammate last season who also signed in the Central Hockey League. Martens inked a player/assistant coach deal with the Wichita Thunder, and Hogeboom signed a player/assistant coach deal with the Texas Brahmas.

Hogeboom’s motivation was slightly different — at least, he said he didn’t sign up for the same reasons that Martens did …

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Geoff Walker reacts to Wheeling trade.

You don’t have to tell Geoff Walker what his big break during the 2008-09 season with the Ontario Reign meant to his career.

“I didn’t want to leave Ontario,” he said, a day after the Reign announced that Walker’s rights had been traded to the Wheeling Nailers. 

“Karl gave me a great opportunity, and the fans – it was kind of like my second home. It’s really disappointing in that sense, but it’s about my career. You have to set some of those (sentimental) things aside.”

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Geoff Walker’s rights traded to Wheeling.

The Reign have traded the rights to forward Geoff Walker to the Wheeling Nailers for future considerations.

Walker, 22, was the Reign’s co-leading scorer in the team’s inaugural 2008-09 season, when he scored 48 points (21 goals) in 68 games. He then signed an AHL contract with the Manchester Monarchs prior to last season, and split the year between Manchester and Ontario.

The 6-foot-3 power forward appeared in 37 games for the Kings’ top farm team, tallying five goals and 14 points. Walker had seven goals and 23 points in 26 games with the Reign last season, and was among the steadiest point producers on a team strapped for scoring.

The Reign went 8-8-1-1 to start the season before Walker was promoted to Manchester on Nov. 21, 2009. When he returned to Ontario on March 5, the Reign were 24-25-3-5 and clawing for a playoff spot. With Walker in the lineup, the Reign went 15-14-1-3; without him they were 16-17-2-4.

An affiliate of the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins, the Nailers play in Wheeling, West Virginia, about 60 miles southeast of Pittsburgh. They went 33-32-2-5 last season, one of four teams that failed to qualify for the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Notes on Francisco, Stretch, G.Walker.

Nothing new under the hot, hot sun by Citizens Business Bank Arena, but there’s some good reading material on Jon Francisco and C.J. Stretch elsewhere on the Web.

Also, contrary to a Facebook rumor, Geoff Walker isn’t going to Russia next season. “Some of the boys were playing a Facebook prank on me,” he said. “It was one big joke that snowballed.”

Walker hasn’t finalized his plans for next season yet. The 22-year-old winger said is working out the details on a contract that will keep him in North America, though he wouldn’t say where. “I’m pretty excited about it,” he said.

Walker was one of eight players tendered a qualifying offer by the Reign.

Francisco re-signs; qualifying offers sent.

The Reign’s 2010-11 roster began to take shape Friday, when Jon Francisco was announced as the first signing of the new season and eight qualifying offers were mailed out.

Francisco, 29, is the only captain in team history and a valuable two-way center. In 72 games, he had 15 goals and 45 points – both down from the previous season (20 goals, 48 points), when Francisco appeared in 63 games.

“He’s been one of our core guys,” Reign coach Karl Taylor said. “He had a decent season last year. We’re going to expect more out of him next year, and I know he’ll expect more out of himself.”

Qualifying offers were tendered to a league-maximum eight players: James McEwan, Greg Hogeboom, Jon Rheault, Geoff Walker, Curtis Darling, Peter Lenes, Mike Zacharias and Chris Curran.

None of the qualified players have re-signed with the Reign. The qualifying offer remains open until August 1, or until it is accepted by the player, during which time he cannot be traded.

The Reign will retain each qualified player’s ECHL rights for next season, regardless of whether or not he returns. For example, Taylor does not expect Peter Lenes back after the forward recently signed in Austria. But if Lenes decides to return to the ECHL, “maybe we’ll keep him, or maybe we’ll (trade) his rights.”

The complete list of qualified ECHL players can be found here.