Fresh on the heels of several LA exit interviews, we now turn our attention to the Ontario Reign. Head coach John Wroblewski certainly had an interesting season, including a very rough start to 2021, coupled with roughly half a roster that was comprised of first-year pros. In surfing terms, he grabbed a board and paddled out to tackle Oahu’s Banzai Pipeline.
Luckily for him, he lived to tell about it. Here’s some of what he had to share during his final zoom call before the team officially broke for the summer:
Wrobo on one player that he saw the most growth from this season:
That’s a tough one. I think everybody would like the answer to maybe be one of the marque names. Byfiled’s quick turnaround right about game 10 was something special. Maybe somebody who surprised the most was Jacob Moverare, though. You weren’t sure how a first-year, North American pro would would fare coming in. Then [he had] a little bit of an injury to start off the season, so then you really don’t know what you have. You’re sort of underwhelmed initially because he’s not the most fluid skater, but then all of a sudden you notice he doesn’t get beat and then he’s facilitating all kinds of offense and making such heady plays with the puck on a consistent basis. So I think he might be the one who surprised me the most out of everybody.
On Akil Thomas flying under the radar, yet being so important to the Reign this season
He’s an interesting one because he’s sort of like an avalanche, he just keeps rolling along. He doesn’t ever make any mistakes, never gets stopped. Then he makes four elite plays a game that sometimes go slightly unnoticed because it’s a depth play with a with a flip pass or just a bump play on the power play — something just extremely unique and heady. There’s also the nights where he racks up the hat trick or three assists and it’s the game changer, in addition to playing his overall solid game. Very, very impressed by his rookie year and with a couple more steps — a couple steps quicker, a little more power to his stride — he could someday push for a spot with the Kings.
On reflecting back on the season, any regrets or one thing he wishes he could have done differently
There’s a lot of them; probably more behind closed doors than anything that we did macro-wise. Like, handling of a player, individually, or something along those lines. I won’t divulge that, but probably more individual basis. I’m still learning quite a bit about about this type of pro [player]. I haven’t been in pro hockey for six years before this one, so it’s kind of getting back into the flow of that. But there was there a lot of positives in that realm too. I think that would probably be it, it would be something behind closed doors.
On specific areas of Quinton Byfield’s development over the course of the season
I think the biggest difference between his game at the beginning and what you ended up seeing at the Kings level was when when we first got him, he would fly by almost every one of his battles. When he would engage, it was almost always with one hand, trying to poke-and-go with his stick on the way through. Credit to QB and Craig Johnson to work together on Quinton’s routes and to get him more affluent with his timing in the defensive zone and the importance of being around the puck, then trusting his acceleration. That’s kind of what you ended up seeing towards the end [of the season]. He would carry that puck and transport it 180 feet with a confidence level that he could be around the puck, support it properly, and then still have the gear to take off. It was a lot of, not only detail work, but also instilling confidence and the inner-belief — earned confidence — that he achieved by following direction, giving it a try. It’s not always gonna work that way with players. They have to play the game. They take advice from the coaches and then put it to use. Ultimately, they have to make the decision on how they’re going to play instinctually. I thought QB had a tremendous blend of being able to take the coaching, but then also rely on his instincts on the way out.
On if the Reign coaching staff improved and developed off the ice at the same rate that the team did on the ice
We were never out of inspiration for a message; something to work on, something to make better, something that drastically needed improvement. The team and individuals provided that inspiration on a daily basis. I think as the year went on, we got better at addressing single values and trying to just fix one thing at a time. That was always the mindset, but when your record starts going down to 1-10-2, then you really are looking for answers. It’s not just one simple thing. Ultimately, we had the confidence as a group to stick to that mantra. I think that covid actually played into our hand on this topic. We couldn’t have long meetings. When we were out on the pond ice here, the players are roughly 75 to 100 feet away from each other, from one player at the front of the room towards the guy at the back of the room and the other corner. So it became apparent quite quickly — and this was a lot of help from our video coach, Brad Schuler — to try to limit the amount of time, and also try to just hone in on one or maybe two items per video session. That’s always the goal, but I think we got even better at that idea, of getting the players in and out of the video session, five minutes at max. Get the message through that we want, then go out and work on that one thing that day. The feedback that we got from the players lined up that way. They felt like we got more predictable as a team through that avenue. It didn’t happen overnight. At that one-third mark, it’s not like the light switch turned on. We still dipped after that and then we came back at the end. But that’s how your season’s going to work. That was one theme that I took away. It was something to always aim for, but I think now it’s part of my rebranding as a coach — to keep things a lot simpler and concise in the meetings.
On how big of a jump guys can make from their first pro year to their second pro year
For some of them, it can be massive. I’m hopeful that we’re gonna see that; whether it’s just a little bit more confidence or through these two months of training. I hope that our offseason is long enough for those guys to make some of those gains. When they left here, the message was crystal clear, particularly with some of our younger guys, ‘This has to be a business summer.’ It can’t be, ‘Alright, covid is over and we’re going home to vacation, going home to the lakes’ and things like that. We have to hunker in and round out our athleticism. Attack the summer! At that point, then we can see huge jumps. With our young core, these guys are still at an age where they can make massive leaps in their athleticism. That’s if they didn’t leave here a little banged up. But guys that are relatively fresh going into this off-season need to grab it, they need to attack it, and they need to come back as much better athletes and ready to take on next year. A big thing that we kind of tried to sift through with this group is that you either had to leave here with confidence that you can come in next year and jump in and be a consistent player with whatever it was that you were doing well at the end of the year, or you left here with a little bit of hunger. Say it’s a guy like Tyler Madden, who got his feet wet, but he didn’t get to realize a full season. Even in the shortened realm of it, he didn’t get to experience that. So he’s leaving here hungry to have a summer and to make sure that he’s up to snuff at training camp and ready to impact that. I don’t think we have anybody that left here complacent. I feel like guys left with a degree of confidence and they’re ready to take another step at the American League level, or we had guys who left here hungry to prove themselves at this level.
ICYMI – here are two articles that tie back to some of Wrobo’s comments: the first is from Moverare’s draft year and the second post went up recently on LA Kings Insider:
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