It’s been a successful start to the 2012-13 season for the Ontario Reign, especially considering they entered play as defending champions of the ECHL’s Pacific Division and have controlled the standings once again over the past few months.
The current campaign kicked off with their core roster returning from last year – Derek Couture, Kyle Kraemer and CJ Stretch were all back at forward, along with Vincent LoVerde and Chris Huxley on defense. Also, as the NHL lockout got underway, the Reign received goaltenders JF Berube (Los Angeles Kings) and Chris Carrozzi (Winnipeg Jets) back from their pro clubs.
GM and Coach Jason Christie further bolstered his group via three huge signings. In August, the Reign added electric forward Colton Yellow Horn from the CHL. He came in and immediately became one of the most exciting players to wear a Reign jersey and has lead the team in goals right from the start.
In late September, Christie received commitments from former NHL defenseman Paul Mara, who brought stability to the defensive core, and Dan DaSilva – who returned to North America after a stint in the KHL. These key off-season moves looked to set the Reign up for another successful season.
They had a good first month on the ice, while starting to build team chemistry at the same time. After a 6-4 record in October the Reign went on a tear in November.
Three quick wins to start the month were followed by more positive news when locked out NHL player Devin Setoguchi signed on to play in Ontario. With the Minnesota Wild forward in the lineup, the Reign ripped through another four wins and ran their winning streak to seven games.
Stanley Cup Champion Kyle Clifford joined the team on November 20th and the good times just kept rolling. In fact, the only thing that prevented the Reign from posting a perfect record for the month was a loss to the expansion San Francisco Bulls over Thanksgiving weekend. The 10-win month improved their overall record to 16-5.
Last month saw a few rough patches though, as Clifford was lost for a few weeks due to an upper body injury and Setoguchi left the team for personal reasons (technically, he was suspended, which allowed the team to retain his rights). Still, they went 7-4 in 11 December games.
A new year may bring many surprises to the Reign though. With the NHL lockout at its breaking point, changes could possibly be around the corner. If the NHL and NHLPA reach a settlement as expected, the Reign will lose Clifford immediately, along with any chance of Setoguchi returning.
Yet, what could potentially impact the team in a bigger way is how the NHL situation could create openings in the AHL. With many younger, locked out NHL players, in the AHL, movement between leagues should increase if the lockout ends. This snowball effect could see several players depart Ontario.
A few Reign players have already been called up by AHL clubs this season, including Couture – who just joined the Houston Aeros this past Monday. On the defensive side, LoVerde may be the most likely candidate to go, as he’s already played ten games in Manchester and could find himself back there once Slava Voynov returns to LA. Stretch spent time with the Aeros last year and Chris Cloud was in the AHL for a period of time as well.
Plus, a guy like DaSilva might also receive a call. His intensity and two-way play is always a valued commodity in the AHL.
Putting the what-ifs aside, Christie will continue to manage whatever group he has available on nightly basis and look to push the distractions out of the way, driving for a solid end to the regular season and (hopefully) the playoffs.
Should the Reign finish atop the Pacific Division, it would be their third division title in only five years in Ontario – and second in a row. It would also give them home-ice through the first two rounds of the playoffs. With an 11-3-1 record this season at the Citizens Business Bank Arena (third best in the Western Conference), home has been good to them so far.
However, the playoffs have been a different story. Even though the Reign held home-ice advantage in both of their previous post-season appearances, they lost each series in the deciding game at home.
Overall, this has been a very positive season for Ontario and their fans, however the hardest work has yet to come. After tonight’s game against Utah and Trevor Lewis, the Reign have five straight games against the Mountain Division leading Alaska Aces.
If there was ever a time to see what this team is made of, it will be over the next 10 days.
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