Some random off-day updates.

The Reign didn’t practice Monday, probably a wise decision after a stretch of three games in three days in Bakersfield that saw its share of injuries and illness sweep through the team.

For tomorrow’s notebook Jordan Morrison discussed his recent hot streak – 14 points in his last nine games, and 29 points in his last 29. He’s a natural center and simply wasn’t as comfortable playing the wing; he believes switching back to the middle was the key to his turnaround.

That raised an interesting point: There are a lot of natural centers on this team who have played a ton of wing this season. Aaron Lewadniuk, C.J. Stretch, Justin Taylor, Brett O’Malley and Michael Pelech come to mind. Shawn Collymore has basically split the season at center and left wing and it hasn’t seemed to affect his production. Other natural centers have filtered through the roster – Jon Francisco, Tim Kraus, Pierre-Andre Bureau, Luke Popko – and probably all of them had to shift over at some point. Dusty Collins may be the only natural center who never seems to move.

That might help explain why the team has been better at faceoffs this season. At the same time, Morrison acknowledged that switching from center to wing isn’t necessarily easy, especially for a rookie transitioning from junior to pro.

More on that in tomorrow’s editions of the Sun and Daily Bulletin. A few more tidbits from my interview this morning with Karl Taylor:
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Reign 4, Bakersfield 2.

Playing their third game in three days, the Reign turned in their only win of the weekend in Bakersfield.

Aaron Lewadniuk, Shawn Germain, David Walker and Chaz Johnson scored goals on Josh Tordjman (20 saves), and Reign goalie Mike Zacharias stopped 49 shots to match Beau Erickson’s season-high total from two days earlier.

Jordan Morrison had three assists, including pretty feeds to set up Johnson and Germain on the breakaway. Justin Taylor had a pair of assists, and Kyle Kraemer and Michael Pelech had one helper each.

Playing his first game of the weekend, Zacharias succeeded against the same barrage of shots that Erickson saw Friday and Saturday. The Condors had their share of odd-man rushes (while also surrendering a few to the Reign), but Zacharias didn’t seem to face the same amount of net-front pressure that kept Erickson from seeing the puck in a 7-3 loss the night before.

Considering Bakersfield registered 157 shots on goal this weekend, the Reign were lucky to escape with three points. By going 1-1-1, the Reign (19-30-2-3, 43 points) lost a
point in the standings to sixth-place Bakersfield (26-24-2-1, 55 points)
but gained a point on seventh-place Victoria (24-27-1-2, 51 points).

The Salmon Kings were shut out 4-0 in Stockton on Sunday.

A few more notes:
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Looking ahead to Bakersfield.

Facing an almost impossibly large deficit in the Western Conference standings, it goes without saying that every series is crucial for the Reign. Given their head-to-head history with Bakersfield this season (the Condors have won 7 of the 9 games), it doesn’t get much bigger than three games in three days at Rabobank Arena beginning today.

“We’re in a situation where we have to win a lot of games to give ourselves a chance,” coach Karl Taylor said, “and even if we win a lot of games we might not get a chance because of the hole we dug.”
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Taylor on switching benches: Wait ’til next year.

Because several readers have mentioned it recently, I asked Karl Taylor about a stadium quirk that’s unique to The Bank: The Reign’s bench is closest to the defensive zone during the second period only. During the first and third periods, the home bench is closest to the offensive zone.

That’s the opposite of how most hockey teams do it, and for good reason.

If a team is hanging on for dear life during a long shift in its own zone, it’s nearly impossible to get fresh players on the ice when your bench is on the opposite side of the rink. Having your bench near the defensive zone for two of the three periods is an important facet of home-ice advantage – an advantage the Reign don’t have “because the attack zone is sold on the horseshoe end of the rink,” Taylor said. “It’s the way the rink is built.”
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Bakersfield 4, Reign 3.

Wednesday’s crowd was the smallest of the season for a home game – 4,670 – but fans weren’t booing. Until the third period, they had little reason to.

The Reign lost in regulation for the first time when leading after one period, and for the first time when leading after two, by surrendering three unanswered goals to the Condors in the third period.

The Condors have won 9 of 10 and showed why. They continued to pepper Beau Erickson (28 saves) even after falling behind 3-1 early in the third period when Brett O’Malley scored a rare goal during a 5-on-3 penalty kill.

The Reign killed off the rest of Bakersfield’s two-man advantage but couldn’t garner any momentum from it. The Condors continued to generate scoring chances with ease and Erickson could do little about goals by Brendan Milnamow (which was deflected en route), Evan Stoflet (on an unchallenged, short-handed breakaway) and Slava Trukhno (another deflection).

Lane Caffaro and Chaz Johnson had the other goals for the Reign, who have lost four in a row and 13 of 15 on home ice.

Check out tomorrow’s editions of the Sun and Daily Bulletin for comments from Erickson, Caffaro and coach Karl Taylor.

Here are a few notes that won’t make the print editions:

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Reign 6, Las Vegas 5, OT.

For a moment there, the script seemed awfully familiar, the Reign squandering a two-goal lead to trail 5-4 midway through the third period.

What better time to reverse course, with the Christmas break behind them, two new teammates in uniform and, oh by the way, that unsightly record on home ice (2-11-0-1) they’ve been trying to get rid of all year.

Dusty Collins scored the tying goal at 13:13 of the third period, and Lane Caffaro took advantage of an overtime power play with the game-winner, lifting the Reign to a cathartic 6-5 win over the Wranglers before 6,296 at The Bank.

Pat Bowen, Kyle Kraemer, Chaz Johnson and Jeff Corey also scored for the Reign. Johnson also knocked Las Vegas starter Michael Ouzas out of the game at 7:49 of the second period, a collision that netted 17 minutes worth of penalties but brought emergency backup Archie Henderson off the bench. Henderson, who has bounced around quite a bit this season, stopped 19 of 22 in relief of Ouzas.

Kellen Briggs stopped 34 of 39 for the Reign, who welcomed former Wranglers right wing Alex Bourret (two assists) and welcomed back defenseman Shawn Germain (plus-2). The Reign scored three goals on the power play as did the Wranglers. More in tomorrow’s editions of the Sun and Daily Bulletin.

A couple more notes that won’t make the paper:
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Dorich set to debut tonight.

Al Dorich will make his Reign debut tonight, wearing Tim Kraus’ (and Jon Rheault’s) old number 12 on the blue line.

The 24-year-old rookie, acquired Thursday from the Gwinnett Gladiators for future considerations, will wear his fifth different uniform of the young season. The Orland Park, Illinois native almost made bouncing around sound easy.

“That’s the way it is in pro hockey,” Dorich said. “I’m just happy to be here in Ontario
now. I don’t think you ever get used to it. You have to find your niche
somewhere, hopefully it’s here. It’s been interesting the whole way
through here in this process, but you learn with each step you go.”

Even though Dorich has been living out of a suitcase since the season began, he said finding playing time wasn’t a problem in Wheeling (where he played two games), Kalamazoo (three) or Gwinnett (one). He would have played two games in Gwinnett if the Gladiators’ game Tuesday had not been canceled when a puck got caught in the Zamboni prior to the game.

Coach Karl Taylor doesn’t believe that Dorich’s frequent presence on the transactions wire reflects his ability – or the lack thereof.

“It’s more reflective of different rosters than him,” Taylor said. “Dusty (Collins) played with
him at Northern Michigan, said he’s a great kid, a defensive defenseman.”

Playing Dorich means that Chad Starling will have to wait at least another day to come off injured reserve.

Taylor said he would have preferred to add an offensive-minded defenseman to a team that’s struggling to score, “but the market bears what it bears.”

“There isn’t a power-play guy out
there,” Taylor said. “We only have five healthy guys. We were happy to get Alan, don’t
get me wrong, but we were looking for more of a power-play guy.”

Instead, the Reign get a defense-first blueliner who has scored two goals – both in junior – since he first suited up for the USHL’s Des Moines Buccaneers as a 17-year-old in 2003-04.

“I’m a defensive player,” Dorich said. “As far as strengths, one-on-one defensive play,
penalty kill – I love playing the penalty kill. That’s where
I make my money, my bread and butter, the thing I enjoy the most,
probably.”

Reign add defenseman Dorich.

Alan Dorich became the third defenseman acquired at midseason by the Reign on Thursday.

The rookie comes to Ontario from the Gwinnett Gladiators – likely in exchange for “future considerations,” though that’s not confirmed – and the Reign will become his fourth ECHL team in a season that is barely two months old.

The 24-year-old has already played two games for the Wheeling Nailers, three for the Kalamazoo Wings and one for the Gladiators, collecting one assist in Wheeling along the way. The Reign will be his fifth team overall this season; Dorich was cut in training camp by the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves.

Dorich had no goals, 17 assists and 200 penalty minutes from 2006-10 at Northern Michigan University, suggesting he is a defense-minded blueliner. Prior to college, Dorich played three seasons for the USHL’s Des Moines Buccaneers, where he was teammates with current Kings Davis Drewiske and Trevor Lewis, and New York Islanders forward Kyle Okposo. The Buccaneers won the Clark Cup in 2006.

No word yet on when Dorich will arrive, or if he will be able to play tomorrow against the Bakersfield Condors. Eric Doyle (upper body) is on injured reserve and didn’t take part in practice. Neither did defenseman Chad Starling (lower body), who worked out off the ice and is eligible to be activated off IR tomorrow. Reign coach Karl Taylor said Starling is questionable.

Before acquiring Dorich, Taylor said he would be comfortable playing with five defenseman if needed, which was the case in Saturday’s 4-1 loss in Bakersfield.

“We played a pretty good game Saturday,” Taylor said. “Obviously we lost and we’re disappointed with the result. We’ve got to climb out of our hole. We played a real competitive game. We had four or five fights in the game. We stood up for ourselves, we had some good chances.

“That’s been the focus this week. We’ve done a lot of power-play work, a lot of scoring drills. We need to create more offense and score more. That’s what we’re trying to fix. We feel if we score more, we can probably win four or five more games than we have.”

Injury updates, and more (!) from practice.

The Reign became four teams of four in practice Monday. Their goal: Scoring goals.

“Our whole goal today was to have a whole scoring practice,” coach Karl Taylor said. “Obviously we’ve struggled with that. That was our focus today. We were out there for an hour and 45 minutes, it was based on scoring and having some competition within it.

“We can’t complain about our defensive play, although at times it’s gotten lax and there are things we need to improve. We have to score more. That’s our number one issue. We have to try to get guys attentive to details and creating more chances.”

As they have each of the last two ECHL seasons, the Reign rank last in the league in goals per game.

Right wing Chaz Johnson, who left midway through Saturday’s game in Bakersfield, was back on the ice after suffering a recurrence of the same shoulder injury that cost him three games in November. He said he expects to play Friday.

Chad Starling (lower body) is hopeful he can come back this weekend too, but he hasn’t been cleared to practice yet. The veteran defenseman, who is eligible to come off 21-day IR on Friday, worked out off the ice.

David Walker also missed practice, taking a “maintenance day” often given to veteran players. Also off the ice were forward Jon Francisco and defenseman Eric Doyle, both of whom remain on IR.

As for the competition, the “black team” of Kyle Kraemer, Lane Caffaro, Dusty Collins and Shawn Collymore were the big winners.