J.P. Hoornstra, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
The Reign did a good job getting a few firsts out of the way this weekend in Stockton, but ECHL arenas should be ready to lose a few more pucks whenever the Reign come to town.
It's a hockey tradition to save the game puck commemorating the important firsts - a player's first pro game, first goal, first victory for a goalie, etc. With 11 players on the roster entering their first professional season, that's potentially a lot of pucks.
"All of us have our first-game puck somewhere," Reign center Jon Francisco said. "It's kind of a special feeling. Those are cool little mementos that you won't forget."
In back-to-back victories Friday and Saturday against the Stockton Thunder, four players (Kyle Kraemer, Matt Delahey, Aaron Lewadniuk and Eric Doyle) scored their first professional goal. Martin Jones won his first pro game between the pipes Saturday. Lewadniuk got into his first fight.
Beyond collecting pucks, the kids did something more important, proving themselves capable of pitching in to a balanced offensive attack. Of the 17 skaters who dressed for the Reign, 14 recorded at least one point.
Center Shawn Collymore, who is entering his seventh professional season, said that the young players' energy was infectious.
"They've got a lot of energy. They're feisty," Collymore said. "As we saw Lewie, he dropped the gloves in a moment of action. He did really well. It's fun to see. As a veteran looking at that, I see those guys and as a veteran I have to match the energy they have. It motivates me to do well."
Jones exorcised some demons from his preseason start at Stockton Arena by stopping 26 of 30 shots Saturday in the Reign's 5-4 overtime victory.
Stockton scored twice on 13 shots in the first period to take a 2-0 lead in the game but, as defenseman Chad Starling said, "it could have been 5-0 after the first period but Jonesy made some big saves."
The 20-year-old Kings prospect had allowed six goals in the same building in his only exhibition game, a Reign loss, one week earlier.
"It's a learning process. In the exhibition game I don't feel like I played my best," Jones said. "I'm going to keep learning, keep getting better. It's my first taste of pro hockey."
Jones isn't alone. But so far, the youth movement is paying dividends.
"I think it's unbelievable," Collymore said. "When I started off my first year (2004-05) in Toledo, I was the only 21-year-old out of junior on the whole team. We've got a bunch of 'em. It's great to see."
The Reign acquired the depth defenseman coach Karl Taylor was seeking Monday, getting rookie Pat Bowen from the Gwinnett Gladiators for future considerations.
The 25-year-old Bowen played the last of his four seasons at Merrimack College in 2009-10, when he served as team captain and posted career highs of 18 assists, 19 points and 54 penalty minutes in 37 games.
"He's a first-year guy, supposed to be a leadership-type kid," Taylor said. "The Gwinnett coach, Jeff Pyle, really likes the kid and spoke highly of him. I think he can come in and add some depth. Hopefully, he turns out to be a diamond in the rough."
In 124 career games with the Warriors, the Marshfield, Mass. native recorded 43 points (four goals, 39 assists) and 146 penalty minutes in 124 games.
C.J. Stretch switched places with Luke Popko in the lineup Saturday. Taylor said that the forward from Irvine struggled in the exhibition, but "we want everybody to get a chance. We don't want anybody on the outside that long, unless they really deserve it." ... Chaz Johnson said his overtime goal Saturday was the first he had scored since he was 11 years old as a youth player in Montreal. ... Only five ECHL players have more than Lewadniuk's four points (two goals, two assists) through the opening weekend. ... G Mike Zacharias, traded to Idaho in training camp, saved all nine shots he faced in a relief appearance for the Steelheads on Saturday.