Christie, ECHL on verge of awkward moment.

At some point this season, Jason Christie will move into sole possession of fifth place on the all-time ECHL wins list. The Reign coach is presently tied with Jeff Brubaker and Malcolm Cameron with 317 career wins.

In an odd twist, Christie can do so without actually coaching a game.

The ECHL suspended Christie one game, to be served tomorrow in Las Vegas, for grabbing an official’s shirt toward the end of Sunday night’s game against the Stockton Thunder. Assistant coach Mark Hardy will be the only Reign coach in the locker room or behind the bench tomorrow.

However, a spokesperson for the league said Wednesday via e-mail that “the
ECHL credits the head coach with the win, loss, etc. if he is
suspended, so the result of Thursday’s game will be reflected on Jason’s
record.”

If the Reign beat the Las Vegas Wranglers tomorrow, Christie might end up watching his career milestone on a grainy internet feed.

The ECHL doesn’t officially keep records for Most Awkward Moments, but this one could rank fairly high on the list. Already, the league put out a news release recognizing Christie’s 317th win.

We can only imagine how the next release might read.

Christie suspended one game and other notes.

Reign coach Jason Christie was suspended one game and fined an undisclosed amount Tuesday by the ECHL. The coach was hardly surprised, after he grabbed the shirt of linesman Steven Walsh late in the third period of Sunday’s 2-0 loss.

Assistant Mark Hardy will be the only coach behind the Reign bench Thursday in Las Vegas. It’s the first time Hardy has been in that position since 1995, when he was on injured reserve as a defenseman for the IHL’s Detroit Vipers and then-Vipers coach Rick Dudley asked Hardy to coach 19 games.

Christie hasn’t been suspended by the ECHL since receiving a three-game ban in 2001 when, as head coach of the Peoria Rivermen, he was involved in an altercation with the opposing coach during a game.

Plenty more from Christie in tomorrow’s editions of the Sun and Daily Bulletin.

A few more notes from practice:
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Emptying out the notebook.

It’s been an unusually busy week in hockey, both locally and nationally, keeping this reporter on his toes a tad more.

Then Jason Christie grabbed a linesman’s shirt Sunday night.

There was no word out of the ECHL offices Monday whether or not Christie will face supplementary discipline. Expect that decision to be handed down tomorrow or Wednesday. The Reign visit the Las Vegas Wranglers on Thursday.

One bright spot in the Reign’s 2-0 loss Sunday was the continued progression of goalie Chris Carrozzi, who will be the focus of tomorrow’s notebook on Page 2 of the Sun and Daily Bulletin. In short, dude’s had a rough start to the season. Somewhat reminiscent of Beau Erickson last year.

Here are a few things that won’t make the notebook (but are still newsworthy):
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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.

Following up with Beau Erickson.

Two days after Beau Erickson’s candid rant against the Reign, both the goalie and his former team have moved on — the Reign with J-F Berube, Jase Weslosky and Dustin Carlson in goal; Erickson with a couple options on the table but still no contract.

I spoke with Erickson this afternoon on the phone, and he said he’s talked to two ECHL teams and three Central Hockey League teams since he was released. He’d like to make a decision about his playing future early next week and hasn’t ruled out retiring.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Erickson said. “I’m going to take some time and make the best decision for me.”

In subsequent conversations I’ve had since Erickson’s interview was published, one factual discrepancy emerged between the goalie’s version of the story and the team’s. Christie said he never got a call from any other ECHL team asking if Erickson was available. Erickson claims that one team, the Cincinnati Cyclones, did reach out to him directly.

“I know for a fact, and I can show you through my records, through text messages and e-mails, that a call was placed by Cincinnati the Friday before I arrived (at training camp),” said Erickson, who declined to elaborate on the substance of the conversations.

That might explain the discrepancy: Christie wasn’t turning teams away from Erickson’s services because he never got any calls about Erickson’s services. The goalie must have assumed otherwise, since one team reached out to him directly prior to camp.

Unless something else emerges, the remaining gray area is a matter of opinion — and that’s what makes sports great. Players, coaches and fans can all debate who should and shouldn’t make the opening-day roster, who should start and who should back up, who should be on what forward line and what defense pair.

And starting tonight, we can all watch some actual regular-season hockey.

As always, comments are welcome below.

Update (10/17): Something else emerged. I just got off the phone with Jarrod Skalde, the Cincinnati Cyclones’ head coach (the Cyclones were on the road all weekend). Erickson said that Skalde reached out to him directly the Friday before training camp. Skalde says he didn’t.

“I don’t even talk to agents about goalies at all. We always get a goalie from San Antonio and Milwaukee,” Skalde said. “I’ve never spoken to Beau or his agent. I tell everyone we have no room for goalies. Of course now, that’s not the case. I need one.”

And so we have yet another contradiction in the account of events. Regardless of who’s telling the truth — I provide this service merely to point out the contradiction — it’s a moot point as the Reign are concerned.

Irate Erickson rails against Christie.

Beau Erickson thought his job was more safe than it actually was. That’s the ultimate reason for the candid war of words waged Wednesday by the former Reign goalie against coach Jason Christie.

From the coach’s standpoint, the story goes like this:

Christie plans on playing J-F Berube a lot. The Kings’ 2009 fourth-round draft pick is fully healthy after off-season hip surgery and is eager to begin his first pro season. When picking a backup goalie, a player who might not appear in half the games over the course of a season, saving money is a priority. This has become a universal truth in the NHL and in this regard the ECHL is sometimes no different.

Even by the standards of the ECHL, where no player earned more than $26,000 last season, Erickson didn’t make much during his 29-game stint with the Reign. But it’s safe to say he got a raise over the summer and was set to make more than either Jase Weslosky or Dustin Carlson, who have 29 games of pro experience between them. Erickson and Weslosky were both re-signed by Karl Taylor, while Carlson was brought in on a tryout by Christie.

So when I asked Christie what went into the decision to cut Erickson, here’s what he had to say:
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Epilogue on a whirlwind week.

One could make the argument that the past two weeks were the most important in Reign history.

Think about it: A week ago Monday, Karl Taylor was the head coach, the Canucks were contemplating becoming a secondary affiliate, there was still no broadcaster, no assistant coach, and game-day parking at Citizens Business Bank Arena was still free for everyone. Today, Jason Christie and his offense-first approach are in the director’s chair and Mark Hardy is his right-hand man. Dan Hubbard is the internet radio voice, and season-ticket holders better hold onto that “free parking” sticker.

Much has changed in a short amount of time. We won’t know until October what it all means as wins and losses go, but if you’ve been following the team for any amount of time, you have to be intrigued by the possibilities. (Maybe not so much about the parking thing.)

I collected a lot of quotes this week that didn’t make the paper or the blog. Here they are:
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Reign sign ex-Salmon King Couture.

Derek Couture, a gritty power forward who split last season between the AHL and the Victoria Salmon Kings, is the 10th player announced to have signed with the Reign.

The 6-foot-1 right wing turned pro in 2005-06, spending the majority of his time in the AHL. Couture, 27, has also played 10 games in the Austrian League and 50 games in the ECHL for Victoria, Charlotte and Elmira.

“He’s a big kid who is very aggressive in his style of play at our level,” said Karl Taylor, who signed Couture before resigning to take an assistant coaching job with the Chicago Wolves. “He’s been in the American League most of the time. He should be a top-3 forward, in my opinion, a real strong power forward. He’s not afraid to stick up for himself or his teammates. He’s a quiet guy but he plays a big game, a big signing who can really help the team out.”

Couture had 19 points (eight goals, 11 points) in 25 games for Victoria last season, along with 76 penalty minutes. In four ECHL playoff games, he had one goal and one assist. Playing for the Connecticut Whale, Couture had six goals and 10 points in 20 regular-season games along with one goal and one assist in six playoff games.

“He’s big, strong, skates well, likes to run people over. He’s going to be a fun player to watch. Someone Jason (Christie, the new head coach) can rely on for leadership. … Jason should be happy hopefully. Obviously Jason will have decisions on who he keeps.”

So far, the following players have been announced:

Forwards (4): Couture, Jordan Morrison, Kyle Kraemer, C.J. Stretch.

Defensemen (4): Chad Starling, Pat Bowen, Jason Fredricks, Adrian Van de Mosselaer.

Goalies (2): Jase Weslosky, Beau Erickson.

The Reign acquired the negotiating rights to forward Geoff Irwin from the Idaho Steelheads for forward Aaron Lewadniuk. A new contract for Irwin hasn’t been announced yet, but he’s expected to sign.

And the next coach of the Reign is …

… Jason Christie.

The Reign made their formal offer to the Bloomington Blaze head coach Monday, and Christie accepted the position last night. The hiring was first reported by the Bloomington (Ill.) Pantagraph.

“It all happened so fast,” Christie told the Pantagraph on Tuesday morning. “It’s a
great opportunity there, but it will be very hard to leave
here.”

Update 1: The Reign issued a press release confirming the hire.

Update 2: I just spoke to Mark Hardy, the former Kings defenseman and assistant coach, who confirmed that he has been offered the job of assistant coach. He is still mulling the offer.

Even if he declines, it’s a significant step for the 52-year-old Hardy, who resigned his assistant coaching post with the Kings after he was charged with felony fourth-degree sexual abuse in May 2010. The charges were later dropped.

But if Hardy’s return to hockey comes as an ECHL assistant, it’s hard to believe that the year-old scandal — a hot topic for the non-sports media after it was reported by TMZ — was overlooked. Hardy has since given up drinking, participated in several Kings alumni events and, most significantly, reconciled with his family. If he can reconcile with the hockey establishment too, the story would reverberate farther than the Reign hiring Christie as the head coach.

For what it’s worth, I spoke to two current players about the possibility of adding Hardy. One called it “great.” The other said it would be “phenomenal.”

Update 3: Justin Kemp said that he has one other assistant coaching candidate in mind besides Hardy. If both decline the offer, the Reign will go without an assistant coach. Kemp also divulged a few details about the Christie hire:

• It’s a two-year contract with an option for a third.
• Christie was his top choice “for the past few days,” after “we went back and forth a couple times early on.”
• Kemp said he got “somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 to 30″ applications for the head coaching position. None were from fans who thought they could do a better job than Karl Taylor.
• Because of a recent ownership change in Bloomington, Christie technically wasn’t currently under contract.
• Kemp wants Christie in Ontario in time for the free agent tryout camp, Sept. 23 and 24. Prior to that, the Reign will host a community “meet and greet” with the new coach at a time, date and location to be announced.