J.P. Hoornstra, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
Dusty Collins walked down a hallway inside Citizens Business Bank Arena that looked pretty familiar, save the 2010 ECHL All-Star logo painted on the wall. Chad Starling, Tim Kraus and David Walker were the first to greet him, each with a look of pleasant surprise.
Like the rest of Ontario, they had not seen Collins in the building since December 2008, when the center played his last game in a Reign uniform. Collins was summoned to the American Hockey League and didn't return until Monday, when the San Antonio Rampage had to make room for an influx of forwards and returned Collins to the Reign.
"I played very well there. A little bit of limited ice time, but I fulfilled my role, doing what I had to do," he said. "It was a numbers game."
After adding former NHL forwards Andrew Ebbett and Jed Ortmeyer, the Rampage sent three centers to the ECHL - Collins, Colin Long and Tyler Mosienko. The latter two were assigned to the Las Vegas Wranglers.
As a fourth-line center in the AHL, Collins was scoreless in seven games this season in San Antonio. He had nine goals and three assists over two seasons with the Manitoba Moose.
In Ontario, Collins can be counted on to score more frequently, in addition to bringing energy and a physical presence. He had six goals, 14 points and 34 penalty minutes in 24 games as a member of the inaugural Reign squad.
"When he left last time, he was just starting to get going," coach Karl Taylor said. "He's been in the American League almost two full years now. He's got a lot of good experience from that, so we look forward to him helping us out."
The 25-year-old Collins said his game and leadership skills are more polished now. For a young team coming off a three-game series sweep in Victoria - for many players, their first sweep at the pro level - Collins could be arriving at just the right time.
"It's the same thing I've always brought," he said, "with a couple additions and a little more polish to it."
Assessing the damage
ECHL teams rarely are good enough to be compared to an AHL team.
But after the Reign's three-game sweep last week at the hands of the Salmon Kings, the Victoria Times-Colonist declared this "may be the closest to it than any previous Salmon Kings team."
Likewise, Taylor was quicker to compliment the Salmon Kings than to criticize his own team's effort.
"Wednesday's game (a 5-2 loss), we played pretty well," he said. "Friday's game (a 6-3 loss), we played really hard but it got away from us for a short span. Saturday (a 4-1 loss), we played really well and lost. They're a very good team."
A power play that went 1 for 18 (5 percent) and a penalty kill that went 8 for 12 (67 percent) didn't help the Reign, who also fell victim to a few injuries.
Right wing Kyle Kraemer injured his knee Wednesday, was placed on injured reserve, sat out the final two games of the series and didn't take part in practice Monday. Center Jon Francisco missed Saturday's game after being injured in a collision Friday. He practiced in a red (non-contact) jersey Monday but has not been placed in injured reserve.
Defenseman Eric Doyle still hasn't returned to the ice since sustaining an upper-body injury Oct. 23, but said Thursday's game against Alaska is a possibility. Defenseman Luke Beaverson was given a rest day Monday but he also expects to be healthy for Thursday.
Goaltender Martin Jones is 1-0 with a 1.17 goals-against average and a .961 save percentage in two games for the AHL's Manchester Monarchs. Jeff Zatkoff has a 3-3-1 record, 3.16 GAA and .892 save percentage in seven games for the Monarchs.
Forward Geoff Walker has three assists in eight games for the AHL's Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Forward Jon Rheault has two goals and three assists in 12 games for the AHL's Abbotsford Heat.
In the ECHL, goaltender Mike Zacharias has a 2.01 GAA and .917 save percentage in two games for the Idaho Steelheads. Garrett Zemlak allowed six goals in his only appearance so far for the Kalamzoo Wings.
Forward Peter Lenes has one goal and three assists in 12 games for the Graz 99ers of the Austrian Hockey League.