Hockey in Southern California sure has come along way in the past 25 years. The area has gone from having one NHL franchise to two clubs – both of which have won the Stanley Cup – plus, a thriving minor league team.
The Ontario Reign, the LA Kings’ ECHL affiliate, are set to kick off their fifth season later tonight. Over the past four years they’ve been near the top of the league in attendance (including leading all teams in tickets sold last year) and have won two Pacific Division titles.
It hasn’t always been smooth sailing though. As their team President Justin Kemp told us last summer, he’s been frustrated that the Kings haven’t assigned more prospects to his club. Although Jordan Nolan and Dwight King made stops in Ontario, they were brief. Most of their professional development before coming to the Kings took place in Manchester. The situation reached a boiling point last August when Kemp was exploring adding a second NHL affiliate – something the Kings appeared to be less than thrilled about.
Making matters worse, the Reign lost their coach just weeks before the season opener last year when he took another job elsewhere. Kemp quickly scrambled to pull things together, eventually hiring Jason Christie as the head coach and adding former Kings assistant coach Mark Hardy in a supporting role.
The group went on to finish with a franchise-best 43-21-5-3 record and Kemp was eventually named the ECHL Executive of the Year.
Now, for the third season in a row, he joins us on MayorsManor to kick off the new campaign and provide a ‘state of the franchise’ type review of where things stand – offering a look back and turning an eye to the future as well.
Some of the topics we’ll touch on include:
– At least four NHL players have signed on to play in the ECHL during the lockout. Will Ontario follow suit?
– A review of Christie’s performance behind the bench
– A review of Hardy’s performance in his new role
– Selling hockey in Southern California
– The return of Kyle Kramer, who suffered a serious on-ice injury late last season
– What Nolan and King mean to the organization
– His ongoing relationship with the Kings
– Is adding a second affiliate still on the table?
– Ticket deals for local hockey fans wanting their fix during the lockout
All of that and much more, so let’s get started…
NOTE: If you’re on an ipad or iphone, click here to listen to today’s episode.
Please note that right after we finished recording this episode word came down that Kings’ goaltending prospect JF Berube – who spent last season with the Reign – had been reassigned from Manchester to Ontario. In fact, he’s expected to be with the club in Stockton tonight. It’s actually a much better situation for Berube too, as he’ll get the bulk of starts in Ontario, rather than play sparingly for the Monarchs behind Martin Jones.
For more info on the Kings minor league affiliates, click here to check out a recent show we did with Manchester head coach Mark Morris. He’ll give you all the latest updates on more than a dozen of the Kings’ top prospects – including Tyler Toffoli, Brandon Kozun and Andrei Loktionov.
We’ll also be on hand to provide coverage of the Reign’s home opener tomorrow night. So, be sure to follow along on twitter or facebook for all the latest updates.