Reign Follow Veteran Mehalko's Lead
J.P. Hoornstra, Staff Writer
When he turns 32 in January, Brad Mehalko will be 11 years older than the Reign's youngest rookie and six years younger than the head coach.
He's not just the oldest player on the team. He's also the only one who has stripped down to his jock strap while skating during practice.
"We did a breakaway competition where after every save, you lose a piece of equipment," goaltender Jeff Zatkoff said. "He was down to his cup, his garter belt, cruising around at Center Ice Arena which, if you've been to that rink, it's not exactly a warm climate. Potential frostbite."
Added center Dusty Collins: "It's a pretty good visual."
While eight of his teammates are playing their first professional season, Mehalko is working on number 12, including seasons in three leagues that no longer exist.
The right wing was taken in the seventh round of the 1995 draft by the San Jose Sharks, ahead of current NHL players P.J. Axelsson and Filip Kuba, but never made it past the American Hockey League, the last stop on the way to the big show.
"I've been to six NHL camps," Mehalko said. "Never got one game up there."
The Reign are his 14th professional team and, as its senior member, his role off the ice has been just as important as his role in the 16 games he's played.
"He's a guy that all the guys look up to," Collins said. "He keeps it loose in the room. A lot of guys look up to him. He's a firstclass guy, a great character guy and a
great hockey player."
Said the 21-year-old Zatkoff: "I don't think you can replace him in the locker room. He missed six games (in November) and it wasn't the same without him."
It should come as no surprise, then, that when Mehalko had one of his best games of the season on Saturday, so did the Reign. He scored his fourth goal of the season in the second period, was on the ice for two other tallies, and finished plus-2 as the Reign beat the Stockton Thunder 4-0 on the road. It was the first shutout in franchise history.
On a low-scoring team Mehalko, one of the Reign's four alternate captains, ranks 13th with six points this season. It's reasonable to assume that his collection of off-ice contributions, however clandestine, is more extensive.
"I've been there, done that, been on the road trips," he said. "I can tell the guys when it's a good time to get some rest and do the right things, or go out and have fun."
The ECHL got a jolt last week when the Augusta Lynx essentially ran out of money and were forced to cancel their season after 18 games.
The Lynx competed in the American Conference and thus weren't scheduled to play the Reign this season.
The greater question is, does the folding of one franchise portend bad things for the rest of the league?
"What we saw was maybe the first casualty of the economy," said Rod Pasma, the ECHL's vice president of hockey operations. "The ownership was involved in eight or nine car dealerships. There's always teams on the watch list but we didn't anticipate shutting down during the season."
Pasma said the Reign, who rank fifth in the ECHL in average attendance at home, aren't on the watch list.
"They've got a hard-working group that leaves it all out there every night," he said.
"I think fans can relate to that."
Reign coach Karl Taylor called the Reign's recent stretch of eight games in 12 days the team's hardest of the season. How did they handle it?
"We're happy with the overall results and our position, but we're pretty disappointed we didn't get it done (Sunday)," Taylor said after a hard-fought 3-2 loss to the Victoria Salmon Kings.
"We win (Sunday), we get 12 out of 16 in these eight games, which would have been incredible," the coach said. "Ten out of 16 is still pretty good."
The Reign are comfortably in second place in the Pacific Division at 12-9-1-1, five points behind the first-place Fresno Falcons and six points ahead of Stockton.
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