Monday afternoon at Moorpark Country Club, about an hour northwest of Staples Center, former Kings Jim Fox and Dave Taylor held their 25th annual charity golf tournament. Even though the two public faces of the event have long since been retired, both are still as popular as ever judging by the excited group of fans that shelled out money for tickets and bid on prizes via the silent auction.
Many other former Kings players were in attendance lending their support as well, including defenseman-turned-coach Mark Hardy. A familiar face at these type of events, he was more than rewarded for his efforts this time around. Hardy’s group won the tournament and earned special awards in the process. Now they didn’t get an official Kings Stanley Cup Ring – that went to a guy named ‘Mr. K’ who donated $100,000 to Kings Care Foundation (yes, $100K), money that then went directly to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation – but, the group looked to be thrilled nonetheless.
All in, Fox and Taylor helped raise over $300,000 for Cystic Fibrosis through the event.
Later in the evening, long after Bob Miller was done emceeing things and sharing jokes at our dinner table, it was time to catch up with Hardy – who spent the last two seasons in Ontario as an assistant coach for the Kings’ ECHL affiliate.
“I really enjoy it there, it’s been awesome,” Hardy began. “The ownership is fantastic. Justin Kemp [team President] does a fabulous job there. And to be paired with Jason Christie [head coach], it’s been two great years. We’re looking forward to a lot of success in the third year coming up here. Our goal here is to win the Kelly Cup, and that’s what we’re trying to do. Now we’ve added Winnipeg on as another affiliate, which should give us some more depth and some more opportunities for our guys to go up and down with both organizations- the Kings and Winnipeg.”
Earlier in the day Kemp had confirmed to MayorsManor his plan to keep both Hardy and Christie behind the Reign bench.
For Hardy though, it not likely be official-official until later this summer.
“Justin and Jason have been fantastic and they’ve said ‘If something comes up, we would back you one hundred percent,'” he explained, referring to any opportunities that may come his way in the months ahead. “Justin was the guy who gave me the chance to get back into coaching again, I owe him so much. Hopefully, one day, maybe something will happen where I can move back up again, which is my dream. Right now, I’ll just take one day at a time. I’m having a good time and really enjoying myself there.”
When he was first hired by Kemp and Christie, only a few weeks remained until game one of the 2011-12 season. In fact, Christie had just been hired himself. After quickly putting a team together they had some surprising success. Although Ontario had missed the post-season each of the two previous years, the Reign ended up winning the Pacific Division that year, before ultimately being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
Eager to build off of that initial push, last season saw a team that was focused right from the start. By midseason they looked to be of championship caliber, largely paced by the goaltending of Kings prospect JF Berube. They qualified for the playoffs in February (!) and went on to win their second Division crown. A first round sweep of the Utah Grizzlies raised expectations yet again. However, they were eliminated by the Idaho Steelheads in the second round – something that’s left a bad taste in the mouth of Hardy and most of the team.
“At the beginning of the year your goal is to win the Cup,” Hardy explained. “The Kelly Cup meant everything to us. Also, at this league, at this level, you’re trying to prepare guys for the next level. I think we conquered that as well, maybe too much. We had a lot of good players and a lot of them went up. We replaced those players with hardworking guys that gave us everything they had. But at the end of it, it wasn’t quite enough.”
True, they did have an abundance of players who were called up to the AHL and it likely hurt the Reign late in the year and into the playoffs. Overall, it just comes with being in a developmental league, and it’s required an adjustment in Hardy’s thinking.
“The turnover in this league is big, with guys often going up to the American League or to Europe once they have some success. Our goal, obviously, is to win the Kelly Cup, but we’re happy when players do get called up. You know, we had C.J. Stretch, Chris Huxley, Yellow [Colton Yellow Horn], Vince LoVerde, Paul Mara was with us at the beginning – he went to Houston. We lost Dan DaSilva too. When your players go up, it’s not the bottom players that are going up, it’s going to be your best players. But we were happy to see those guys get up and have the opportunity to further their careers and have a chance to get to the AHL. But, hopefully next year we can have more depth with two organizations and put a hell of a squad together.”
One player that had Hardy pretty pumped up a few months ago was Kings prospect Nick Ebert. A seventh round pick by LA (and the last guy selected at the entire 2012 NHL Draft), the teenage defenseman was summoned to the Reign after his Windsor Spitfires were eliminated from the OHL playoffs. The kid went on to be a huge shot in the arm for their blueline over the final four regular season games and into the post-season.
“He’s an unbelievable talent,” Hardy proclaimed, accompanied by a rare smile from the burly coach. “The way he can skate, he has great size for a 19-year old kid. He’s 6’1”, 210 pounds, and he has a cannon for a shot. In our exit meeting we told him to work on his defensive play and come back with a passion that he wants to play this game every single game. Sometimes he lulls himself a little bit. But I see so much upside in his game. I asked him, ‘Who’s your favorite player?’ and he said, ‘My favorite player is Drew Doughty.’ So I said, ‘Well I coached Drew Doughty for two years, and the difference between you guys is Doughty plays with no fear. He goes out there, he plays with no fear. He plays like a warrior every single game. When you can get that part into your game, and learn the defensive side of the game, you’re going to be a hell of a player.’ So, I see a huge upside in Nick, especially if he truly believes in himself and wants to come in and be a warrior night-in and night-out like Drew Doughty does.”
Ebert will be back in the OHL next season and most likely turn pro in the summer of 2014. However, he has a busy few months of hockey ahead. First, he’s expected to join many of the Kings top prospect at Development Camp in early July. Then, he’s off to attend Team USA’s World Junior Evaluation Camp in August.
As for Hardy, he’s preparing for a return to the ECHL grind and continuing his quest for a championship.
“Hopefully, if we can build right from the start, with Winnipeg and the Kings and with the free agents that Jason signs, we’ll be in good shape. Jason does an unbelievable job. I look at the first year that he got in there, he put together the team from – boom, boom, boom. We walked in there and didn’t have too many players from the year before, didn’t know what we had, and he did a remarkable job of doing it. Last year, I think he did an even better job. But, the bottom line is we have a fabulous fan base, where we average 7500 fans each game. We want to give them the Kelly Cup. That’s our goal, that’s our dream right now, and we want to win.”
For more on Berube, Ebert, Hardy and the Reign, please see the links below.
Ontario Reign no longer playing with house money in post-season – includes Ebert notes and quotes
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