Reign seek new leader after call-ups
J.P. Hoornstra, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
The Reign miss Dylan Yeo and JP Cote.
Certainly they were among the top minutes-eaters on the blue line when they were recalled to the American Hockey League during a three-day span in November, but the scoresheet only tells part of the story.
Yeo, the team captain, and Cote, the Reign's oldest player and the only player in team history with prior NHL experience, left behind a young, somewhat lost group that suffered a season-high, three-game losing streak before beating the Las Vegas Wranglers 5-2 on Saturday.
"They were waiting for somebody to take Yeo's spot, waiting for somebody to take Cote's leadership role," head coach Jason Christie said. "I think that's huge. We have guys in there that can do it. It's just a matter of them taking the horns there."
Second-year forward Geoff Irwin sensed it was time to hunker down when he called a closed- door players-only meeting prior to Saturday's game. It was the first such meeting of the season.
"We talked amongst ourselves before the game," defenseman Pat Bowen said. "I think he pointed out that everyone in here has probably worn an `A' or a `C' at one point in our career or another. It's time for us to take that accountability, step up. We definitely played our game the last game."
Irwin, forward Derek Couture and defensemen Chris Huxley are the de facto leaders by virtue of the alternate captain's "A" sewn on their sweaters. But others - including Bowen in college, and Kyle Kraemer and Matt Tassone in juniors - have been team captains recently, if not as professionals.
To move forward, maybe the Reign just needed to shatter the notion of age as a prerequisite for leadership.
"Coming out of their first year, it takes them a little while to get their feet wet. It happens every year," Christie said.
"They've been getting a lot of ice time because we have been short-handed. We know the character we've got back there. That's the No. 1 thing."
The Reign may need all the character they can muster this weekend.
Three games in three nights against the Alaska Aces is arguably the toughest road trip in the ECHL. The Aces are defending Kelly Cup champions and their home-ice advantage - they're 12-2-0 at Sullivan Arena this season - is legendary.
Since the shortest day of the year also is approaching, the sun isn't expected to rise over Anchorage until after 10 a.m. and will have set by 4 p.m. this week.
Maybe that team meeting came at just the right time.
"Definitely good timing," Bowen said. "A couple guys spoke up and got things off their minds. Like I said, the accountability thing has kind of turned around, so to speak."
J.D. Watt became the first Reign forward recalled to the AHL on Monday, when the 24-year-old right wing found out in the middle of practice that he was headed to the Manchester Monarchs.
Watt, who signed with the Monarchs in the offseason, has seven points (one goal, six assists) and 66 penalty minutes in 22 games this season. What he lacks in skill - his 1.7 percent shooting accuracy is the lowest among all Reign players with at least 20 shots on goal - he makes up for in controlled aggression. Watt, a familiar presence in the opponent's crease, mostly racked up penalty minutes with his fists and drew nearly as many minors as he committed.
Brady Calla is a candidate to come off injured reserve in time for the Alaska trip. The right wing, who hasn't played since suffering a broken hand in a fight Nov. 19, was scheduled to be re-evaluated late Monday and could have his cast removed.
"Hopefully there's no grip issue," he said.
Philippe Seydoux rode a bike last week but had a setback in his recovery from a concussion, Christie said. The defenseman remains on injured reserve.
Jason Fredricks (knee) skated Monday, but Christie said the defenseman still is "about three weeks away."
Forward Kevin Estrada also is a candidate to make his season debut this weekend. If and when he returns, Estrada will wear No. 44.