ONTARIO - With a division title in their rearview mirror, the second-seeded Reign will begin their ECHL playoff march with a long bus ride to Idaho.
They will open their first-round, best-of-five playoff series Tuesday against the Idaho Steelheads, against whom they played many of their most physical games this season.
"Both teams are gonna to be amped up," leading scorer Derek Couture said. "Both teams are playing to stay off golf courses. Guys gotta go get jobs, no one wants to do that.
"It's different hockey, it's fast, a way faster game in the playoffs."
The Reign made the playoffs for the first time since their inaugural season (2008-09), a campaign that also saw them capture the Pacific Division crown.
They did so behind the leadership of veterans such as Couture, 27, Bill Bagron, 30, Kyle Kraemer, 27, Kevin Estrada, 29, and Mike Gabinet, 30.
"That's our identity, Derek Couture, Kevin Estrada and Mike Gabinet. You've got to have the older guys to be successful," coach Jason Christie said. "They take pride in jumping out there and working hard for it."
Younger players such as leading per-game scorer C.J. Stretch and goalie Jean-Francois Berube echoed that sentiment in their praise of Ontario's veterans.
Christie lauded Couture in particular as one of the finest and most receptive players he had ever coached
"If he's doing what you're preaching, that's the best thing a coach can have," Christie said. "He's done it, he competes every night and he's had a great year. That's a big part of why our team has had success."
The respect is mutual from Couture for Christie, who took the reins of the Reign this season.
"Since day one, the coaching staff laid down the structure for us to follow and the team's bought in," Couture said. "Everybody works hard within that structure. I think that once everybody's on the same page, things kind of click."
He hopes to continue to cultivate that chemistry in the postseason with the Reign's mix of experienced minor leaguers and aspiring NHL'ers.
"If guys come out and they're too excited or too jumpy, the older guys can calm them down and tell them, `Just play our game. It's worked for us, you don't have to change it,' " Couture said.
Berube, who has solidified himself as an outstanding goalie in the second half of this season, said the Reign have another weapon in their arsenal.
"The fans help us a lot," Berube said in response to the Reign leading the ECHL in attendance for the third time in four years. "When you hear the crowd is so loud, you don't want to disappoint them. You want to work harder and it gets the adrenaline rushing in you."
They will play their home playoff game Friday at 7 p.m. at Citizens Business Bank Arena.
Idaho twice has hoisted the Kelly Cup, the trophy awarded to the ECHL champion.
Last season, the Steelheads were swept in the conference semifinals by eventual champion Alaska.