If this were the regular season, it wouldn’t be a story. But since it’s training camp, a time when coaches are supposed to have more players than locker stalls, the fact that the Reign still only have five defensemen on the ice is sticking out like a sore knee (Jason Fredricks), a case of mononucleosis (Adrian van de Mosselaer) or an unexpected immigration hang-up (Chad Starling).
The group grew by one today, to five, when Travis Gawryletz was cleared to join on-ice activities. Gawryletz (pronounced GAR-lits) came from the Manchester Monarchs’ camp and becomes the fifth player in Ontario with at least 30 games of AHL experience over the two last seasons (Dylan Yeo, J.D. Watt, Brady Calla and Derek Couture are the others).
Gawryletz was beaten out for an AHL roster spot by Jordan Hill, who re-signed with the Reign over the summer, but was whisked away when the Monarchs signed him to an AHL contract yesterday. Both defensemen were in the Monarchs’ camp on tryouts.
Fredricks and van de Mosslaer aren’t expected to be ready until November, while Starling’s arrival date remains up in the air. That means that Jason Christie has some work to do if he wants three defense pairs in time for Saturday’s exhibition opener against Las Vegas.
“We have to take a different avenue now because we had (Hill) penciled in,” Christie said. “Gotta work the phones. Got two days to get it done.”
No major developments emerged from today’s training camp session. J.D. Watt took part in his first practice with the team, but center Francois Brisebois and defensemen Travis Gawryletz (both awaiting physicals) did not.
The forward trios are actually skating consistently as trios now that Jason Christie is running lots of system-oriented drills. The line of Kyle Kraemer at left wing, Jordan Morrison at center and Derek Couture at right wing has had a few days of practice to get acclimated. Given their shared inclination for scoring, we’ll tab this group as the early frontrunner for a No. 1 line in Saturday’s preseason opener.
Geoff Irwin (LW), C.J. Stretch (center) and Brady Calla (RW) have stayed together for a couple days now, too. That group could be another potential keeper.
Wednesday’s other lines:
Chris Cloud-August Aiken-J.D. Watt
Shayne Neigum-Bill Bagron-Dean Yakura/Kyle Reed.
This isn’t breaking news. It’s been that way since the end of last season and it’s a tradition in each year Karl Taylor has coached in the ECHL.
What is news is that, even with a returning captain and three alternates (Shawn Germain, David Walker and Chad Starling), the Reign are waiting to select their next “C.”
“The turnover is so high, we wait and see what happens. We see how it shakes out,” Taylor said. “Obviously we’ve got some guys back from last year who we trusted, but we’ve brought in some new guys that have experience and maybe they’ll be part of the leadership group.”
To choose the captain, the Reign players collectively get one vote, while Taylor gets another.
“It’s a big decision, and we definitely don’t want to rush it,” Taylor said. “I’m never in a rush to pick the captaincy.”
Neither is Francisco.
“Last year, I was very much honored to be a part of that close group of guys,” he said. “But that’s over. This is a new year.”
Forwards Brian Matte and Dan Leslie were released Monday morning, trimming the Reign’s training camp roster to 25.
“We have lots of guys that we feel are obviously better than them, that’s why we released them,” coach Karl Taylor said. “It’s hard when you get released or you don’t make a team, or you don’t get picked for something, you feel like it’s your own fault. There is some ownership there, but we have pretty high-level players in camp this year.
“Both those guys would probably have made our team last year.”
Matte appeared in the Reign’s preseason opener Thursday night in Las Vegas, while Leslie’s only game action came a night later at Center Ice Arena. Both were kept off the scoresheet. Neither Matte, 21, nor Leslie, 23, have played in the ECHL before.
Jon Francisco and Greg Hogeboom scored goals, but the Reign were outplayed on special teams and had a hard time controlling the zone in a 5-2 loss to the Las Vegas Wranglers at Orleans Arena. Curtis Darling made 35 saves in goal.
More details in tomorrow’s editions; the two teams will meet again at 7 p.m. Friday at Center Ice Arena.
As with any sport, the value of an ECHL preseason game lies less in getting a win as much as assessing the team’s talent, deciding who to keep and who to cut.
“We’ll try to get everybody in and if not, oh well. That’s life,” Reign coach Karl Taylor said.
In a way, this is an even more delicate exercise in the ECHL, with so much turnover from year to year (although the Reign have a particularly high retention rate — 12 of the 30 players who appeared in a game last season are back). But for more than half of his 27 players, Karl Taylor has no frame of reference for how they’ll execute for him in a game. On the other hand, there can be as much turnover during the ECHL season as the off-season because of AHL recalls, injuries, trades, and the occasional roster cut. Maybe none of the players on tonight’s roster will make it through to the end of the season in Ontario.
Karl Taylor has never brought back as many as five players on one defense from one year to the next as an ECHL coach. “Hopefully they’re the five good ones,” he joked.
Back are Shawn Germain, Dan Knapp, David Walker, Chad Starling and Andrew Martens. Gone are Darren McMillan (IHL), P.J. Atherton (Europe) and Colten Teubert (WHL). In their place are newcomers Cameron Cepek, Brian Kilburg and Mike Egener. Their average height: 6-foot-3. Though it’s possible that one or two would get cut before the regular-season opener, Taylor said he’s open to keeping all eight on the roster.
David Walker is still commuting from Long Beach, which sounds insufferable until he tells you he’s got XM satellite radio as company on the 100-mile round-trip drive. The defenseman, a veteran of four ECHL seasons and another in the Central Hockey League, called this year’s team overall “the most talented I’ve been a part of.”