Kyle Kraemer post-season quotes.

Kyle Kraemer turned 26 last month, but had the same ups and downs of any rookie in his first pro season.

At times, his speed and offensive instincts made him a dangerous player. At other times, his hesitation without the puck made him a liability. Kraemer came back from a midseason knee injury that cost him 18 games to post some respectable numbers – 16 goals and 37 points in 54 games, along with 37 penalty minutes and a minus-8 rating.

Here’s what he had to say following his end-of-season interview:
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Reign win, but are eliminated from the playoffs.

There will be hockey in Ontario again this year. Playoff hockey, however, will have to wait.

The Victoria Salmon Kings’ come-from-behind, 7-6 shootout win over the Stockton Thunder eliminated the Reign from the playoffs Friday, a couple hours after the Reign beat Idaho 3-2.

That the Reign were eliminated should come as little surprise. They had no margin for error beginning this week, needing to win their final six games and needing Victoria to lose their final seven.

The Salmon Kings didn’t cooperate. For the first time all season, they came back to win a game they trailed after two periods (5-3), pulling even with Stockton at 6-6 with 5:42 left in the third period.

If they win each of their last four games, the Reign can still match Victoria at 64 points in the standings should the Salmon Kings lose their final five games. But they cannot win more games than Victoria this season; the Reign would also lose the second tiebreaker having lost five of six head-to-head meetings.

All of which makes the game details somewhat moot. Beau Erickson won his second straight start, stopping 30 of 32 shots, and Jordan Morrison’s goal at 9:27 proved to be the game-winner.

Kyle Kraemer and Aaron Lewadniuk scored power-play goals and Alex Bourret had a pair of assists for the Reign. Lewadniuk re-entered the lineup after being held out Wednesday due to a back injury and switched places with Chaz Johnson, who was recalled to the AHL Thursday.

The Reign have another game in Idaho on Saturday night, before hosting three games next week to close the season.

Reign 4, Idaho 3.

The Reign aren’t dead yet.

Michael Pelech’s second goal of the game at 15:31 broke a 3-3 tie and lifted the Reign to a win over Idaho in a back-and-forth game in Boise. Combined with the Victoria Salmon Kings’ 2-1 loss to the Bakersfield Condors, the Reign remain mathematically alive for the final Western Conference playoff berth.

Chaz Johnson scored the Reign’s first two goals, and Beau Erickson stopped 40 of 43 shots with Jase Weslosky (lower-body injury) being spelled by emergency backup Tony Davenport.

Johnson’s wrist shot gave the Reign a 1-0 lead at 6:10 of the first period. Kael Mouillierat and Aki Seitsonen answered to give Idaho a 2-1 lead before Johnson evened the score with his team-leading 22nd goal of the season with only 24 seconds left in the second period.

Kyle Kraemer found Pelech for the go-ahead goal at 5:14 of the third period, but the lead was short-lived. Dustin Friesen netted the Steelheads’ second power-play goal of the game at 7:12 to tie the game at 3. Idaho, which leads the ECHL in power-play efficiency, finished 2-for-4 with the man advantage.

But Pelech came through with his eighth goal of the season after Kraemer was stood up by an Idaho defender in the offensive zone, and Pelech raced to the net with the loose puck.

Dusty Carlson stopped 20 of 24 for the Steelheads, who host the Reign at 6:10 p.m. Friday.

Victoria, which has now lost two in a row after winning back-to-back games, visits Stockton at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Stockton is 7-3-0 this season against the Salmon Kings and has won three straight.

The Reign must win, and need the Salmon Kings to lose in regulation, in order to keep their microscopic playoff hopes alive.

Earlier Wednesday, the Reign claimed goalie Shane Connelly off waivers from Utah, likely as insurance for Weslosky.

The former University of Wisconsin standout has played for five ECHL teams in two professional seasons. In five games for Utah, Connelly went 1-2-0 with a 4.22 goals-against average and .880 save percentage. In 74 pro games, all at the ECHL level, he is 25-30-7-4 with a 3.26 GAA, .890 save percentage and five shutouts.

Reign 4, Las Vegas 2.

Needing a win to keep their diminishing playoff hopes alive, the Reign responded with their second win this week against the Las Vegas Wranglers.

Jase Weslosky turned in another strong performance, stopping 27 of 29 shots, and getting goals from Aaron Lewdniuk, Kyle Kraemer, Shawn Germain and Justin Taylor – the latter coming into an empty net with 44 seconds remaining.

The Reign are now seven points behind the seventh-place Victoria Salmon Kings, who won on Wednesday and have played one fewer game (64 to 63). That leaves the Reign with eight games to make up seven or more points in the standings.

At least now they have some semblance of momentum on their side. The response to a 1-0, first-period deficit was rather impressive; the Reign scored three unanswered goals to start the second period and, ultimately, put the game away. Weslosky turned aside all nine shots he faced in the third to preserve the win.

Brett O’Malley had two assists, while Lewadniuk, Taylor and Jordan Morrison had one helper each.

Not that it will be needed for any playoff tiebreakers, but the win allowed the Reign to win the head-to-head season series with the Wranglers, five games to four. Las Vegas is the only Western Conference team against whom the Reign have a winning record.

Las Vegas 7, Reign 4.

Mike Zacharias summed up the collective frustration in the building by tossing his stick when the game’s final goal sailed into the Reign net.

“It’s not them scoring on our goalie, it’s them scoring on us,” David Walker said. “We all take a piece of the pie.”

But clearly the Reign need more than the tandem of Zacharias and emergency backup Dennis Cook, who can’t play unless Zacharias is hurt. That’s why Karl Taylor, who almost never names his starting goalie, named Jase Weslosky the starting goalie for Saturday night’s game against Las Vegas — and Weslosky wasn’t even in Ontario yet.

The Wranglers’ seventh goal, by Ryan Huddy, was one of only two Zacharias allowed that you would expect the goalie to make most of the time. The other five were the result of defensive-zone turnovers, missed backchecks, and odd-man rushes against — the unholy triumvirate of defensive lapses that has doomed the Reign all season.

That said, Zacharias was lucky that he didn’t give up nine goals. One shot trickled through between his legs, got behind him and was heading for the goal line before Alex Bourret (goal, assist) swept it out. Another scoring chance ended when Justin Bernhardt hit the post in front of a wide-open net from — no joke — three feet away.

Doug Krantz, Kyle Kraemer, C.J. Stretch and Bourret scored the goals; Kraemer and Bourret’s came on the power play. The Reign outshot an opponent for the second straight game (40-31) and their offense was humming so well, it wasn’t unreasonable to expect a comeback from down 6-4. That’s why Huddy’s goal, with 2:02 left, was so frustrating.

More on the Weslosky and Craig Gaudet trades in tomorrow’s editions of the Sun and Daily Bulletin. A few more notes/observations:
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Utah 5, Reign 1.

Tom May and the Utah Grizzlies capitalized on 10 power plays in a penalty-filled Reign loss in West Valley City.

May had three of the Grizzlies’ four power-play goals in a game that saw the Reign go 0-for-6 with the man advantage.

Goalie Mike Zacharias faced a 48-shot barrage and stopped 43 with last night’s starter, Beau Erickson, out due to injury. Oliver Freij, a local college student, served as the emergency backup.

James McEwan had 22 of the Reign’s 62 penalty minutes, including a 10-minute misconduct and a match penalty for fighting at 8:14 of the second period. Alex Bourret and Giffen Nyren fought twice; Jordan Hill fought former Reign defenseman Brian Kilburg; and Kyle Kraemer fought Marcus Carroll.

Utah collected 56 penalty minutes of its own in the final meeting between the two teams this season. Ryley Grantham, who had not collected a single penalty minute in his three previous games with the Grizzlies, was awarded 16 in a single third-period altercation with Luke Beaverson.

Defenseman Pat Bowen scored the Reign’s lone goal, at the end of an odd-man rush at 7:41 of the second period.

The scoresheet changed roughly a dozen times within a half-hour of last night’s game, so take this link with a grain of salt.

The Victoria Salmon Kings (27-2-91-2) lost 5-2 to the Bakersfield Condors to remain nine points ahead of the Reign (21-33-2-4, 48 points) in the race for the final Western Conference playoff spot. The clock is ticking on the Reign’s season – they have 12 games left, Victoria has 13 left, and they need to make up at least nine points. Those odds are beyond long.

The Reign get four days off before hosting the Idaho Steelheads on Wednesday.

Stockton 4, Reign 3.

Make all the excuses you want – and there are some valid ones – but the Reign lost a game they needed to win Sunday.

Alex Bourret, Kyle Kraemer and Jordan Hill scored goals, and Mike Zacharias stopped 34 of 38 in his third start in as many nights. The Reign looked drained, and so did the Thunder, but the Reign couldn’t bury the equalizer after Hill’s power-play goal at 5:24 of the third period.

The standings picture is looking even more dire after the Reign gained only one of a possible six points this weekend. Mathematics dictates it’s too soon to write an epitaph, but … if it was going to take a miracle for the Reign to make the playoffs after their month of November (4-6-0), December (3-9-0), or January (4-8-2), they’ll need something more than that following a 6-6-3 February.

Realistically, they will need healthy returns from David Walker, Shawn Collymore, Justin Taylor and Chad Starling in March. Aside from the fact that all four are veteran leaders, that’s two of the team’s top three scorers (Walker and Collymore), the top-line left wing (Taylor) and one of two shutdown defensemen (Starling). 

Collymore can be activated before the Reign’s next game, Friday in Utah, but I don’t know how serious his “lower-body injury” is. Walker has tried to fight through a host of injuries already, and probably will again. So has Taylor. Starling is expected to be back by the third week of March.

In the meantime, they’ll need to bring in some quality reinforcements.

“We’re trying,” head coach Karl Taylor said. “We’re looking at different options. We have a lot of injuries right now. It’s not good timing, but it’s part of the game, part of the sport. It’s my job to find people to replace them.”

More from Taylor, as well as Zacharias, in tomorrow’s editions of the Sun and Daily Bulletin.

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

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Reign 4, Idaho 3.

The Reign’s 3-2 deficit in third period wasn’t too much to overcome on Wednesday, and they can only hope their six-point deficit in the standings isn’t too large, either.

Clearly, the Reign are a team in the mood for comebacks. Jordan Morrison’s goal with 4:50 left in the third period, and an overtime goal by Kyle Kraemer, lifted them to a 4-3 win over Idaho before an announced crowd of 6,644 at CBBA. Mike Zacharias (10-11-3-3) stopped 36 of 39 shots to win his second straight start.

Kraemer also scored a power-play goal in the first period and Justin Taylor scored at 7:25 of the second to give the Reign a 2-0 lead. Idaho went ahead on unanswered goals by Cody Purves, Mark Derlago and Junior Lessard.

The Reign went 2-for-3 on the power play and also killed off a pair of third-period power plays after Purves scored on the Steelheads’ first man-advantage shift of the game.

The Victoria Salmon Kings (24-27-1-2, 51 points) still hold the seventh and final playoff position in the Western Conference, six points ahead of the Reign (20-30-2-3, 45 points). The Salmon Kings have one game in hand, but the pressure is on them now to beat Utah in their next game Friday.

A few more notes:
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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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Reign 6, Elmira 5, OT.

Alex Bourret’s goal with 1:04 left in overtime gave the Reign something they’ve been waiting a long time for: Back-to-back wins at home.

Jordan Morrison completed a four-point game by corralling the rebound of a David Walker shot behind the net, then spotting Bourret streaking through the right faceoff circle for the game-winner.

That capped an impressive comeback by the Reign (17-28-2-2), who had trailed Elmira by scores of 3-0, 4-1 and 5-3. Morrison, Chaz Johnson, Shawn Collymore and Kyle Kraemer also scored goals. Johnson finished plus-3 and was on the ice for all but one of the Reign’s goals.

The six-goal outburst matched a season high, and the win brought them within seven points of seventh-place Victoria (21-25-1-2) in the Western Conference standings.

Beau Erickson was fighting the puck early, but benefited from some third-period adjustments that allowed the Reign to spend more time in the offensive zone and outshoot Elmira 10-7. Erickson finished with 27 saves.

Timo Pielmeier (22 saves) started the week as the Ducks’ backup goalie, but finished on the losing end of his first game with the Jackals.

Because I didn’t mention it in the paper: The Reign were sporting vintage Forum-blue-and-gold Kings jerseys, with a crown on the front of the sweater and the Reign logo on the shoulder patch. They looked sharp.

Because they were auctioned off after the game, they won’t be worn again. And because they play in the Eastern Conference, Elmira won’t be back this season after tomorrow.

The Reign would probably like to see both the jerseys and the Jackals back.

More details in tomorrow’s editions of the Sun and Daily Bulletin.