"I knew right away my role wasn't going to be the same. I realize where I'm at right now. This is probably the last few months of my career. I've been here so long, this is probably the place I should finish up." -- Tyler Willis
When it comes to Kalamazoo, that's the sort of charmed life the forward has built for himself.
"It couldn't have worked out any better," said Willis, 32. "People say things happen for a reason. If I didn't (go to the game), I'm sure I might have been halfway across North America right now."
The reason for that safe assumption is that Willis feared his playing days were done. He was let go by Flint of the IHL in a cost-cutting move prior to Christmas. Before heading home to Princeton, British Columbia, he swung by Kalamazoo to pack up some stuff and hang out with some old friends.
"I wasn't going to phone around, go some place I didn't want to go," he said of looking for work elsewhere. "The good teams were all set. I thought I was going to call it quits."
Kalamazoo always leaves a light on for Willis. He played with the K-Wings from 2003 to 2009 in the UHL and IHL, getting voted the team's most popular player for all six years. In his tenure there the 5-foot-8 sparkplug played 326 games, recorded 225 points (67-168) and amassed 1,391 PIM.
"They like the way I play, simple, and drop the gloves a few times a year," Willis said. "They seem to enjoy that."
Willis was going to say his farewells and then head out of town, but he decided to attend one more game. That decision extended his playing career at least a few more months. In the third period team officials pulled him out of his seat and offered him a deal.
The move reunites Willis with Kalamazoo coach Nick Bootland, who was his linemate back in the old K-Wings days. Willis knows such top-line glory is gone, replaced instead by a fill-in role on the third or fourth lines.
"We had a good talk, me and Boots. I knew right away my role wasn't going to be the same," Willis said. "I realize where I'm at right now. This is probably the last few months of my career. I've been here so long, this is probably the place I should finish up."
Agent of change -- All that Toledo Walleye forward Chris Robertson needed to get a foothold in the ECHL was a well-connected friend. After that, he's taken it from there.
Robertson, 26, is playing like an ECHL vet with 9 goals and 15 assists in 23 games for Toledo. In truth, Robertson is testing himself at that level for the first time. Since turning pro in 2004-05, he's never played anywhere but the CHL.
He seemingly outgrew that league the past three seasons when he was well more than a point per game guy for New Mexico. But Robertson viewed the ECHL as an island to which he had no bridge.
"The way I was playing, I should have been given a chance at some time. Everyone always asked me why I never went to the ECHL," Robertson said. "I don't know anybody to start calling to ask to play. Nobody ever contacted me. I just never knew how to get there."
Playing well was a start. Hiring an agent would have also helped. Robertson had a bad experience with an agent early in his career, and went without one ever since.
Last summer he took the advice of a friend and hired Mike Bernier to work on his behalf. The investment has been a sound one. Bernier arranged a deal that brought Robertson to Toledo.
Robertson missed the first several weeks of the season when he took a stick to the face in an exhibition and suffered a broken orbital and cheekbone. Since then, he's been making up for the lost weeks and years.
"You have to stay positive all the time, make it like nothing happened," he said of returning from the injury. "I definitely thought I had a bit to prove. I feel good about the way I came back from it. It's more of a high-intensity game through 60 minutes (than in the CHL). That's more my game. I knew I'd have no trouble adjusting."
Rome in Reading -- Defenseman Reagan Rome played in several different cities during his pro career, but Reading always seemed a little more special to him.
The feeling is apparently mutual.
The team will induct Rome into its wall of honor during a pregame ceremony on Jan. 15. Rome played in four separate seasons with the Royals from 2003 through 2007. He holds the team record for all-time regular season career games (176) and registered 12 goals, 61 assists and 398 penalty minutes overall.
Rome, 28, retired after last season because of a lingering knee injury. He will be the sixth person inducted into the wall of honor, joining current head coach Larry Courville, Ryan Flinn, athletic trainer Brian Grogesky, Jon Franscisco, and Cody Rudkowsky.
"It's nice to go down in history somewhere. It doesn't matter where," Rome said. "I did spend quite a bit of my time in Reading. I enjoy it there. It's kind of a blue-collar, work hard kind of town. That was my motto when I played. The fans took to me there."
Around the ECHL -- Stockton and the San Jose Sharks have entered into a working agreement for the duration of the 2009-10 season. The deal will serve as a supplement to the Thunder's continued affiliation with the Edmonton Oilers of the NHL and the Springfield Falcons of the AHL. ... Goalie Jonathan Quick became the first player to begin his pro career in the ECHL and be selected to the U.S. Olympic hockey team when USA Hockey announced its selections for the Vancouver Olympics. Quick played 38 games for Reading in 2007-08, compiling a record of 23-11-2-1. ... Davis Payne became the 28th current NHL coach with ECHL ties when he took over in St. Louis. Payne was head coach of Alaska for four seasons, where he was 185-75-28 in the regular season and won the Kelly Cup in 2006. ... Victoria has won its last 10 home games, two shy of the team record set in 1988-89 when it played in Erie, Pa. ... Cincinnati tied a club record with its seventh consecutive road win by topping Johnstown 5-0 on Jan. 2. ... Kalamazoo received defenseman Jon A. Landry from Ontario for forward Sal Peralta in a trade last week. He is the second Jon Landry the K-Wings have had on their roster. In training camp, Kalamazoo welcomed a different Landry, who spelled his name the same way. ... Four of Kalamazoo forward Jeff Mason's seven goals this season have come against Toledo. ... Bakersfield set a team record by reaching 20 wins in 31 games. ... Charlotte's Randy Rowe pocketed an assist against Gwinnett on Jan. 3 for his 400th career ECHL point. ... Alaska's Scott Reid had 23 saves in the first period, the most by a goaltender in the opening period this season, in 6-3 win over Ontario on Dec. 31. ... The Gladiators have gone eight consecutive games without a regulation win, one short of tying the all-time team record set in January 2004. ... Stockton enforcer Riley Emmerson scored his first ECHL goal in a span of 33 games over two seasons against Idaho on Jan. 2. ... Johnstown's David Schulz has zero penalty minutes in his last five games after earning 44 in nine games from Nov. 22 to Dec. 11.