Reign hit hard with suspensions.

The Reign will be forced to play without their leading goal scorer, their top fighter and their highest-scoring defenseman for the near future.

The ECHL suspended right wing Derek Couture for five games, left wing Chris Cloud for four games and defenseman Steven Tarasuk for three games as “a result of actions prior to” Saturday night’s 6-4 victory over the Utah Grizzlies. Cloud was also suspended a fifth game “under
Rule #23.7, which states any player who incurs a total of three (3) game
misconduct penalties for fighting-related infractions shall be
automatically suspended for his team’s next game.

All three players were fined, as were head coach Jason Christie and the Reign organization.

The league also suspended Grizzlies defenseman Cody Lampl (four games), center Jordan Foreman (four games), and defenseman Matt Sorteberg (three games). They were fined along with two other Utah players (center Mitch Wahl and defenseman Nick Tuzzolino), coach Kevin Colley and the Grizzlies organization.

After Saturday’s game, Colley said that Reign players were “shooting slapshots down at our guys in warmup.” Reign coach Jason Christie said Monday that pucks were flying in both directions during the warmup period, and he was not disappointed with his team’s response.

Messages left for Christie and Reign president Justin Kemp were not immediately returned Tuesday afternoon.

Couture, Cloud, Tarasuk, Lampl, Foreman and Sorteberg all received fighting majors and game misconducts. The game-misconduct penalties will be counted toward each player’s suspension, meaning Couture and Cloud are eligible to return next Wednesday against Stockton, and Tarasuk is eligible to return this Saturday against Utah.
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Chaz Johnson comments on Simon Ferguson incident.

Two days after Utah Grizzlies forward Simon Ferguson used the “N-word” in a verbal altercation with Reign forward Chaz Johnson on Saturday, Reign coach Karl Taylor addressed the situation again in a team meeting prior to the team’s off-ice workout Monday.

Besides the vile and derogatory nature of the word itself, it’s an explosive situation for a few reasons.

To say Johnson lost his cool in the moment would be an understatement; he tried to leave the Reign bench and climb onto the Utah bench to retaliate against Ferguson, who was standing a few feet away from Johnson during the argument but then walked away after using the racial slur. Johnson had to be restrained by teammates and leave the game.

“To give me an opportunity to get back into the game, and line up with someone who just said that to me, I don’t think it would have been a fight,” Johnson said. “I think it would have been more than that, and probably my other type of sense level would have probably kicked in. Something probably would have happened that would have ended my hockey career. I think it was better to take myself out and let myself calm down.”

Neither Taylor nor any player I spoke to for the story (including Shawn Collymore, whose father is black), had heard the word used in a professional hockey game. As James McEwan said, “it’s tough to know what to do after that.”

The Reign’s enforcer did what he felt was his job. He told Ferguson they were going to fight in the second period, then punched the Utah forward even after Ferguson decided not to drop his gloves after being given what McEwan felt was fair warning.

It’s up to the ECHL to decide what to do next. Taylor, who has coached in the league since 2005, was not aware of a similar incident ever occurring during his time behind an ECHL bench. A Utah Grizzlies spokesperson said the league is investigating multiple incidents from the game. Any announcement of supplemental discipline should come before the Grizzlies’ next game, at home against Stockton on Wednesday.

Though the Grizzlies said Ferguson won’t comment while the league is investigating, Johnson said that he received a call from Ferguson on Sunday to apologize. Johnson also received a phone call from Reign president Justin Kemp — “just a show of support.”

McEwan said he’s known Ferguson for a few years. Both are British Columbia natives who honed their junior chops with the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets. Check out his comments in tomorrow’s editions of the Sun and Daily Bulletin.

I don’t often transcribe entire, long interviews word-for-word, but here were my questions for Johnson and his answers:
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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.

Reign 3, Utah 2.

Jordan Hill’s power-play goal at 12:09 of the third period lifted the Reign to a 3-2 road win over the Utah Grizzlies. C.J. Stretch and Alex Bourret also scored for the Reign, who snapped a three-game winning losing streak.

David Walker, who returned to the lineup after missing a game with a lower-body injury, collected the assist on Hill’s goal, his second helper of the game. Bourret, Jordan Morrison and Dusty Collins also had assists.

The victory allowed the Reign (21-32-24) to temporarily move nine points behind the seventh-place Victoria Salmon Kings in the Western Conference standings. Victoria is currently playing the Bakersfield Condors.

The Reign moved to 4-5-1 in 10 games against the Grizzlies this season, with the 11th and final game tomorrow in West Valley City.

Correction: We had it wrong earlier by virtue of a scorer’s error. Beau Erickson allowed the Reign’s first two goals before coming off when he was injured in a third-period collision with a Utah player. Mike Zacharias stopped 6 of 6 shots in relief and was credited with the win.

Reign 4, Utah 3, OT.

The Reign managed to take three of a possible six points from the Grizzlies, the first-place team in the other (Mountain) Division, on the strength of a Pat Bowen point shot that got through at 2:03 of overtime.

The Mountain trip isn’t over yet – its fourth and final game awaits tomorrow night against the Idaho Steelheads – but it’s off to a decent 1-1-1 start. The win allowed the Reign (14-26-1-2) to keep pace with the Victoria Salmon Kings (18-24-1-2) and remain eight points out of the seventh and final Western Conference playoff position with two games in hand.

And in the midst of an impossibly lousy season at home, it’s no small feat that the Reign are now 10-11-1-1 on the road. They can pull to .500 away from CBBA (ignoring the OT/SO columns) with a win in Boise.

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Utah 3, Reign 0.

If the Reign are still planning to narrow the gap between eighth and seventh place in the Western Conference, those plans are still on hold.

Saturday’s 3-0 loss before an announced crowd of 8,150 at the Maverik Center was the Reign’s fifth straight. Goaltender Andrew Engelage improved to 4-1 against the Reign, stopping all 31 shots he faced for his first shutout this season.

The Reign (13-26-1-2) will remain eight points behind the seventh-place Victoria if the current score holds and the Salmon Kings lose tonight to the Las Vegas Wranglers.

Goaltender Beau Erickson, playing his second game in as many nights, stopped 31 of 33 shots for the Reign.

He got little help in a first period that saw Utah (25-16-3-1) outshoot the Reign 10-2. For the second straight night, the Reign bounced back big in the second period, outshooting Utah 22-11 despite holding just two power plays. But the Reign couldn’t take advantage, and fell behind 1-0 on Tom May’s goal at 4:52.

Hugo Carpentier notched his eighth goal of the season at 8:15 of the third period and Simon Ferguson scored into an empty net with 16 seconds left.

The two teams play again Monday in West Valley City, Utah.

Utah 3, Reign 2, OT.

Hugo Carpentier’s goal at 2:09 of overtime completed the Grizzlies’ comeback from a 2-0 deficit, giving the Reign a valuable point in the standings but wasting a golden opportunity for a win on the road.

For the first time since December, the Reign weren’t outshot. Beau Erickson stopped 36 of 39 for the Reign, and Andrew Engelage stopped 37 of 39 for the Grizzlies. The Reign benefited from a second period that saw Utah take 10 penalties, resulting in six power plays and a 20-10 shots advantage.

All Ontario had to show for that second-period opportunity was a 5-on-3 power-play goal by Dusty Collins at 5:32, and an even-strength marker by Shawn Collymore at 11:43. Clearly, Lane Caffaro’s absence was felt. His ability to get shots through to the net could have made a noticeable difference in a close, power-play heavy game like this.

Utah began its comeback just 27 seconds after Collymore’s goal, when a long shot by Marcus Carroll beat a screened Erickson. With 3:57 left in the third period, Matt Clarke tied the game at 2 with his wrist shot from the left faceoff circle.

It stayed tied until Carpentier’s goal, one second after a penalty to Reign defenseman Jason Fredricks expired. Though Fredricks could do little to prevent the goal as he exited the penalty box, the Reign officially finished 5-for-5 on the penalty kill.

The standings point put a dent in the gap between Ontario and seventh-place Victoria in the Western Conference standings, bringing the Reign eight points back with one game in hand.

The Reign and Grizzlies play again tonight.

Caffaro suspended, heading to Germany.

Lane Caffaro became the third Reign player to leave for Europe this month on Friday, when the defenseman was suspended by the team and joined the Hannover Indians of the German Bundesliga.

According to the website haz.de, Caffaro has arrived in Hannover but the team hasn’t officially affirmed his transfer yet, as his contract status is still in limbo. Because the Reign suspended him, however, it seems unlikely that there is any scenario in which he comes back.

Caffaro played a valuable role on the Reign’s blue line this season as the primary point man on the power play. The 26-year-old had 17 points (six goals, 11 assists) in 36 games since arriving in a trade with the Idaho Steelheads. Tonight’s game against the Utah Grizzlies will be the Reign’s first without Caffaro since October.

The Reign will be getting defenseman Jordan Hill, and center Dusty Collins, for tonight’s game after each was cut by his AHL team this week. However, Hill isn’t the same kind of defenseman as Caffaro — more of a gritty two-way player than an offensive specialist — and it will be interesting to see what kind of changes Karl Taylor makes without Caffaro.

Utah 5, Reign 1.

Make it six straight losses, 15 in 17 home games, and and an even bigger deficit in the Western Conference basement for the Reign.

The season isn’t halfway over, but eighth-place Ontario (10-22-0-1, 21 points) is already 27 points behind first-place Utah (22-10-3-1, 48 points). It was said here before the Christmas holiday break that a strong comeback following the week off was needed to entertain thoughts of saving the season. The Reign came back recharged to win their next two, but have since lost six straight. Mathematically, their hole isn’t impossible to overcome to make the playoffs, but the fact that mathematics would enter the conversation when the season isn’t halfway over yet speaks volumes.

The signs of progress, relative to a respectable effort Friday, were exiguous. The Reign started strong, outshooting Utah 13-5 at one point in the first period, and maintained a hard checking game for 60 minutes even though there were no fights. (Credit the officiating crew for stepping in quickly on a couple occasions.) The Reign’s 29 shots on goal more than doubled yesterday’s total, and it’s clear the team isn’t hesitant to shoot anymore. That message got through loud and clear.

But there was a stark disparity in the special teams. The Reign converted 1 of 6 power plays; the Grizzlies converted 3 of 7. Two Reign PPs ended when they were whistled for offensive-zone penalties, which speaks to a lack of discipline.

Alex Petizian made his Reign debut and stopped 30 of 35. Shawn Collymore scored the Reign’s lone goal off a costly Utah turnover. Utah’s Simon Ferguson came back from a pair of injuries to his face – including one late in the second period that drew blood and forced him off the ice – to record a hat trick.

Plenty more in tomorrow’s editions of the Sun and Daily Bulletin. No updates on Jeff Corey, other than that he is still listed on the roster so it’s a safe bet he hasn’t officially signed in Europe.

Utah 1, Reign 0, plus a bunch of notes that didn’t make the paper.

One fan suggested that he would wear a bag over his head to the next home game – an understandable choice after the Reign’s 10th loss in 11 games at The Bank.

In reality, Friday’s loss wasn’t particularly difficult to watch; the Reign just had nothing to show for it on the scoreboard. No lines looked the same as they did in Wednesday’s 7-3 thrashing at the hands of the Las Vegas Wranglers. Some actually displayed tangible chemistry, namely that of Aaron Lewadniuk, Shawn Collymore and Chaz Johnson. Jeff Corey, Justin Taylor and Kyle Kraemer – playing his first game since Oct. 27 – had their moments, too.

The only moment that mattered came at 12:37 of the second period, when Simon Ferguson’s second-chance whack at the net past Beau Erickson crossed the line for the game’s only goal.

Erickson showed no rust in his first 60-minute game since September. Kellen Briggs’ streak of consecutive starts ended at 18.

The Reign drew three power plays in a six-minute span late in the third period, and skated 6-on-5 for the final minute, but couldn’t bury the equalizer.

James McEwan re-entered the lineup and played sparingly, but he did fight with the much larger Nick Tuzzolino (6-5, 225 to 6-0, 191) in the third period. He landed one clean punch to the face with his left hand – the same hand that was surgically repaired in the off-season – so McEwan passed his first major test in his first game back.

The Reign travel to play the Bakersfield Condors at 7 p.m. tonight at Rabobank Arena.

Here are a few notes that won’t make tomorrow’s editions of the Sun and Daily Bulletin:
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