Reign's Boisclair Earns His Vegas Vacation
J.P. Hoornstra, Staff Writer
His eyes were getting wide about having six days off work for Christmas, and Maxime Boisclair sounded as if he'd lived in the Inland Empire all his life.
"We're going to Vegas, get wild," the right wing said after the Reign's 6-2 win Sunday over the Stockton Thunder. "I'm going to go to L.A., too. I haven't had time to do that yet."
No ECHL team, in fact, is playing until the day after Christmas. So Boisclair, who grew up in Montreal, is making the Vegas trip with a pair of Quebec natives and Pacific Division rivals: Martin Frechette of the Bakersfield Condors and the Thunder's Toby LaFrance.
Few in the league have earned the break as much as Boisclair, and no one has been more critical to the Reign offense during the team's current five-game winning streak. The 23-year-old has nine points in the five games, including his first two-goal performance of the year Sunday.
"The last three or four games when we've been short-handed and asked more of him, he's really elevated his game," coach Karl Taylor said of Boisclair. "He's really heading in the right direction."
Boisclair was acquired in a trade with the Charlotte Checkers seven games into the regular season. He made his Reign debut Nov. 5 in Utah, but scored just two goals the entire month of November. The reason was simple, and Boisclair is quick to admit it: he was afraid to shoot.
"(The Reign) were a family. Everybody knew each other already," he said. "I just wanted to keep a low profile and keep doing my job. I didn't want to people to think I was someone who didn't want to give up the puck."
Instead, a more serious problem developed: Too many passes led to too many turnovers, and too many open shots were passed up.
"Max is a big guy (listed at 6 feet, 200 pounds) and skating isn't the easiest thing for him," Taylor said. "He has to work hard to get going, but once he gets going he's a freight train; he's hard to stop. If he moves his feet, he's going to create space. Because of that he's getting more open looks and he's going to shoot the puck."
He didn't start shooting until recently, however, and it was out of necessity. Jon Rheault was promoted to Manchester of the American Hockey League on Dec. 11, leaving the team without one of its top scoring threats and leaving a hole opposite Boisclair on his line with Jon Francisco.
Speedy winger Todd Jackson filled Rheault's spot, and the chemistry has been evident in the five games since. Jackson has two goals and four points, and Francisco has three goals and eight points, in that span.
"I'm trying to put the puck on the net and if the seam pass is there, I'm going to give up the puck," Boisclair said. "But if I get to shoot, I'm going to shoot."
Three days before Christmas, the timing couldn't have been worse for the Fresno Falcons to cease operations. Yet on Monday, they became the second ECHL team to fold since the beginning of the season when the team's ownership group notified the league it didn't have the money to finish the season.
"I feel really bad for the players, the coaching staff and training staff," Taylor said. "All of a sudden there's 20 free agents that affect the balance of the league.
"We worked very hard to recruit our team. All of a sudden this changes everything."
As of Monday afternoon, Taylor hadn't considered adding any of the Falcons' players, all of whom immediately became free agents, and said it was "too early" to speculate what impact they might have on the Reign roster.
The ECHL is in the midst of its Holiday Roster Freeze, which prevents any players from being traded or waived until Saturday, but the Reign have four active roster spots open.
Fresno was leading the Pacific Division with 38 points (18-10-1-1), two points ahead of the Reign (17-9-1-1), and had beaten the Reign twice in three contests this season. Their three remaining head-to-head games were immediately taken off the schedule - Sunday's game in Fresno and the Jan. 23 and March 18 matchups at Citizens Business Bank Arena.
As for whether those home dates will be replaced with games against other teams, "we'll know a little more here in the coming week, once all the arena availabilities have been given to the league," said Justin Kemp, the Reign's vice president of business operations. "It will probably require some additional travel dates."
The Augusta (Ga.) Lynx of the American Conference ceased operations on Dec. 2.
The Reign's five-game win streak looks even more impressive considering the five AHL promotions, and an injury to defenseman Dan Knapp, that have depleted the team in December.
Four of the five games were played with just 13 players - nine forwards and four defensemen - before blueliner Andrew Martens was rushed in from Manitoba on Sunday.
"To win five games in a row in this league is hard to do," Taylor said. "It's not something to be looked at lightly."
On top of that, the final three games of the streak were played on consecutive nights, beginning Friday night in Las Vegas before home games Saturday and Sunday.
"Of course I'm tired," Boisclair said Sunday. "It's all about training in summertime.
That's why you train, because you know you're going to have to play a lot of games in a short time during the season."
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