Three weeks ago, Ontario was hosting the expansion San Francisco Bulls and trailing by three goals with less than five minutes to play in regulation. They came back to tie the game and eventually won 5-4 in a shootout.
For the re-match on Wednesday night, the Reign brought reinforcements – namely, Minnesota Wild forward Devin Setoguchi.
“I was down here (in Southern California) and I didn’t really have much going on,” explained the former NHL first round draft pick. “I was skating with (several other pros) at Anaheim Ice. But, I was sick of just skating.”
So, he reached out to some old friends to see if maybe he could join a more competitive environment.
“I grew up with (Colton) Yellow Horn and the Sheahan brothers and Everett Sheen,” Setoguchi said. “I played with Chris Cloud and Derek Couture in Saskatoon too. I also played against Jason Beeman and (CJ) Stretch. So, I pretty much knew three-quarters of the team before I got here. We skate together in the summertime (in Lethbridge, Alberta) – Colton and Everett and Brody and Brock. I played bantam with all those guys. So, we’ve probably known each other since we were 14-15 years old.”
Spurred by the idea, a few of them asked Ontario coach Jason Christie if there might be room on the Reign roster for a guy who’s averaged 23 goals in the NHL over the past four seasons.
“The main thing he wanted to know was that I was taking it seriously, making sure I wasn’t just playing as a joke,” remarked Setoguchi. “This is for real. For everyone here, it’s their jobs. So, for me to come in, I had to try and get myself in the best shape (possible).”
And how is that coming along?
“I’m still a good solid couple of weeks away from being in shape. But, it was nice to come in and play a regular game again.”
After skating in his first game for the Reign and earning assists on two of the team’s three goals, coach Christie was more than satisfied with his performance.
“You know what I liked, he was really strong on pucks,” Ontario’s bench boss said. “He has that extra little gear too when he wants to turn it up.”
However, Setoguchi was still focusing on his conditioning when he spoke with MayorsManor after the game.
“I didn’t feel too bad,” the 25-year old right wing said. “Definitely my lungs and my legs aren’t where I want them to be. But, it just felt nice to be back in those game situations, with some pace and some speed.”
Although a few NHL players have signed to play in the ECHL, don’t expect dozens more if the lockout drags on. Because they need to take out insurance against their NHL contracts to play anywhere – and with the ECHL having a salary cap system that usually only pays players a few hundred dollars a week – it’s a break-even proposition at best in most cases.
“It’s almost back to minor hockey days, when it’s costing you money to play,” joked Setoguchi. “But, it is what it is. I love to play hockey and I want to play. It’s an unfortunate situation we’re in right now (with the lockout). Until we can figure that out, I’m more than happy being here.”
It’s probably a little easier too knowing he’ll be surrounded by a group of guys he’s had past relationships with, rather than going to Europe – where he likely wouldn’t even speak the same language as most of the other players.
“It was funny driving to the rink today,” Setoguchi shared. “It was me, Brodie and Colton. We were like, ‘Well, it’s kinda like old times, only now we can drive!'”
His relationship with one of his new teammates runs deeper though than just playing with or against each other a decade ago back in Western Canada. When he was about 11 years old, Setoguchi’s parents took legal guardianship of Yellow Horn and they shared a room together.
“We played Pee Wee AA together and we were 1-2 in league scoring that year.”
Not much has changed. Yellow Horn leads the Reign with seven goals and 11 points.
For Setoguchi, the connections to former teammates may keep coming at him in the days ahead. Ryane Clowe, one of his old buddies from the San Jose Sharks, has signed on with the Bulls. For now, he’s only agreed to practice with the team. But, he could join the line-up as soon as this weekend – just in time for when the Reign travel to the Bay Area for another match-up with their new division rival.
“There’s still a chance he might play on Saturday,” said Setoguchi. “I actually wouldn’t mind keeping him out because he can do some pretty serious damage out there. He’s one of the best players I’ve ever played with. He’s unbelievable at protecting the puck and passing and shooting.”
What about playing the puck from the bench?
To be fair, Setoguchi was in Minnesota when that happened last season. So, maybe he’s not as familiar with some of the the newer ‘skills’ Clowe has picked up.