J.P. Hoornstra, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
Christmas came late for Todd Jackson.
That was the metaphor he used for Saturday's game against the Stockton Thunder, Jackson's first since Jan. 2 (and, for the record, only his third since Christmas Day).
In a season wrought with more setbacks than any of Jackson's six-year professional career, the speedy forward made the most of his opportunity. He began his first shift with a takeaway behind the Stockton net and scored the game's first goal 20 seconds later.
He was also on the ice in the second period when the Reign scored a power-play goal to provide the 5-3 final score.
Head coach Karl Taylor said he was the first to congratulate Jackson on a solid return performance.
"I thought he looked really good," Taylor said. "I was really happy for him because he's a great guy, a great teammate and he's had a tough go this year. Maybe he's just trying to tell me it was a bad decision; that I should have had him there sooner."
Jackson's season began ominously when he broke his nose in practice, which delayed his season debut until Dec. 2. He was pushed down the depth chart with the emergence of rookie Peter Lenes, another speedy winger who was named to the ECHL All-Star Game in January after scoring 11 goals and 18 points in his first 26 games.
But Lenes had just three assists in 20 games since and, with the team's offense struggling, Taylor had to make a change.
"If guys don't play well enough, they're not going to play. Simple as that," Taylor said. "We don't have time to waste."
On Saturday, Jackson skated at right wing with center Michael Pelech and left wing Tony Voce, who scored two goals. He had never skated on a line with either player this season but noted that "sometimes it's a good thing to be with fresh guys and have that energy of being with somebody new."
A well-rested Jackson was easy to play with, Voce said.
"On our first shift, he beats the guy wide, goes to the net and scores a nice goal - which for him, that's his game," Voce said. "He's got speed, he's good with the puck, he's pretty responsible. He was on tonight. It was fun to play with him."
Arena Man cometh
Saturday's game also marked the return of "Arena Man," a.k.a. Cameron Hughes, who was in the Citizens Business Bank Arena stands for the filming of a Web series based on his adventures as a professional cheerleader.
Yahoo.com cameras followed Hughes around the bleachers as he flung T-shirts, interacted with fans, and even tried to get Stockton head coach Matt Thomas to kiss one of his players for the in-house "Kiss Cam."
A team spokesperson said that Hughes appears in more than 200 arenas a year, and will be featured on NBC's "Today Show" before he brings his act to the Vancouver Olympics.
Defenseman P.J. Atherton scored his seventh goal of the season Sunday for the Hanover Indians of the German Bundesliga. Defenseman Darren McMillan had a goal and an assist on Friday for EHC Klostersee of the German Oberliga.
Forward Dwight King had a goal and an assist for the American Hockey League's Manchester Monarchs in two weekend games.
Defenseman Colten Teubert had two assists in two games last weekend for the Western Hockey League's Regina Pats.
More schedule woes
The Reign have a less than favorable schedule this weekend, going to Stockton on Friday, returning home to face the Thunder on Saturday, then heading to Bakersfield for a 2 p.m. game Sunday against the Condors.
Justin Kemp, the team's vice president of business operations, said that arena availability was not an issue for the Reign. The Thunder, however, will be kicked out of Stockton Arena for separate events Thursday and Saturday, and have no other home games among their 10 in February.