Reign in playoffs after 2-year absence
Friday was a hectic and historic day for fans of the Reign.
If they wanted to see their team clinch its first playoff berth since the inaugural 2008-09 season, fans had to flip online from the Reign's wild shootout win in Colorado to watch the end of the Bakersfield Condors-Stockton Thunder game.
The two games ended less than an hour apart. Chris Carrozzi's save on Kevin Ulanski completed an excruciating 2-hour, 55-minute game at 10 p.m. local time in Loveland, Colorado. The playoffs were clinched when Stockton Thunder forward Kevin Baker scored the winning shootout goal at 9:44 p.m. Pacific Time in Bakersfield.
In the Reign locker room, winning one game was enough stress for one night.
"I didn't hear anyone talk about if we had clinched a playoff spot," goalie J-F Berube said.
The "P" word didn't even enter into the room until after Saturday's game in Colorado, coach Jason Christie said.
"The only thing we're worried about is ourselves," Christie said. "That's how our guys are. It's not sit there and follow the stats. The guys are excited, I think. It's a big plus. We've still got a long ways to go for sure."
The Condors, languishing at the bottom of the Western Conference standings with a 16-34-4-2 record and 38 points, cannot catch the Reign over the final month of the season. The Alaska Aces and Las Vegas Wranglers already clinched playoff berths.
The Reign still would like to catch Alaska and Las Vegas in the Western Conference standings, so there's plenty to play for. The number one seed in the conference gets a first-round bye, and that's a big deal, Berube said.
"Even now, guys have two days off. It's very important this time of season (because) everyone has bumps and bruises," he said.
Among the 28 penalties assessed Friday was a game misconduct to Reign forward Kevin Estrada for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Estrada was ejected at the 11:57 mark of the second period in the Reign's 9-8 victory following an exchange with an on-ice official.
"I was going over to talk to the ref (Curtis Marouelli) about why he'd given our bench a 2-minute minor. He didn't really explain it to me. I said, I need to go back to the bench, talk to me. He said `get in the box or you're out of here' type of thing. I said, I've got a letter on my jersey for a reason, I'm here to talk to you, let's talk. I was being calm about it. All of a sudden he says, `get out of here."'
The ECHL has a policy of not making officials available for comment.
Christie said he would like to see that misconduct penalty rescinded. He believes the veteran forward was ejected "because of nervousness" on the part of the officiating crew, which was roundly criticized by both teams for its handling of the game.
Joe Ernst, the ECHL's vice president of hockey operations, said the penalty will stand.
"Mouth or physical abuse of officials, we don't overturn those," Ernst said. "There's no video proof. It's hard to say what a kid said."
The incentive to Estrada - who played in Saturday's game - is that the league automatically suspends players one game when they accumulate three misconduct penalties in the same category in the same season.
Estrada already had one game-misconduct penalty this season, for instigating an altercation in the final five minutes of a game
(Jan. 28 against Bakersfield). Because Friday's misconduct penalty fell in a different category, he will not be automatically suspended if he is given another.
Right wing J.D. Watt, sidelined since Feb. 4 with a hairline fracture in his foot, is set to come off injured reserve and play Wednesday against the Utah Grizzlies. He will take the place of forward Mike McKenzie, who was recalled Saturday by the Houston Aeros of the American Hockey League.
Watt was one of five players who took part in Monday's optional 90-minute practice. Mike Gabinet (lower body) and Matt Tassone (back) were skating hard but are not expected to play Wednesday. Both remain on injured reserve.
Berube and Jason Fredricks were the only healthy players who practiced.
Center Jordan Morrison has four goals and eight points in 11 games since joining Lillehammer IK of the GET Ligaen, the top division in Norway.
Goaltender Jeff Zatkoff ended a personal three-game losing streak Sunday by making 32 saves in the Manchester Monarchs' 4-3 win over the Providence Bruins.
Defenseman J-P Cote scored a goal Sunday for the Norfolk Admirals, his first goal in the AHL since February 2009.
Right wing Derek Couture and defenseman Vincent LoVerde were named recipients of the ECHL's Silver Skater fantasy team award based on fan voting on ECHL.com.
Berube won the Golden Goalie award. Each player will wear a special jersey Friday during the Reign's game against the Utah Grizzlies. Couture is approaching Greg Hogeboom's team record for the most points in a single season.
Couture has 54 points with 17 games left on the schedule. Hogeboom had 59 points in the 2009-10 season.