As far as opening nights are concerned, the Ontario Reign's introduction at Citizens Business Bank Arena on Oct. 25 could not have gone any better.
Not only was there an enormous crowd (8,832) on hand to welcome ECHL hockey to the town in Southern California, but Karl Taylor's club was able to pull off a 4-1 victory against the Las Vegas Wranglers.
"It was fantastic," Taylor told NHL.com. "We had something like 8,500 people. We had a heck of an intro video done. It was very well done. We had the huge dragon on the ice blowing fire and smoke. The home team won, so it was a great night."
With several months of hard work and planning going into the special event, Ontario brass certainly expected the state-of-the-art facility to be the hot spot Oct. 25. What Taylor was pleasantly surprised by was the passion and hockey sense of the team's new fans.
"We knew we were going to have a good crowd in terms of numbers of people, but they're very knowledgeable fans," Taylor said. "They were very loud and appreciative of our effort. It's a very nice player-friendly environment to be in. They're very supportive of our team."
Ontario enters Friday night's three-game series against the Utah Grizzlies in second place in the Pacific Division at 4-4-0.
Unfortunately, the Reign have struggled on home ice since that win against Las Vegas, dropping their last two games. They averaged about 5,000 fans for those contests.
"There's a bigger appreciation for the game live than on TV out here," Taylor said. "I think on TV, it doesn't play as well for some of the fans that are in this area. We all know what kind of game it is live. It's very quick. The fans really get to be part of the environment, and at our level, they get a lot of player and coach access. I know they really appreciate that. That's part of our job at this level -- to be available and to help sell tickets. I know the fans appreciate it."
Sitting at .500, Taylor is eager to find ways to get his team on a roll. Even though it's still early, he's convinced his team has already established an identity. Now, it's just a matter of getting everyone to buy into the system and contribute on the offensive end.
The Reign certainly have a No. 1 goaltender, as Jeff Zatkoff
was named the CCM Vector ECHL Rookie of the Month for October after going 4-1-0 with a 2.20 goals-against average.
"We know our identity, there's no doubt about it," Taylor said. "We play very well defensively and work extremely hard. That's who we are. We've been doing that every single game. Other than one game, we've had a chance to win every single game. We feel confident in our abilities and what we're doing. Obviously, we've had some growing pains. It's the start of a new season and the start of a new team, but our identity's actually really strong this early in the season. We've just got to try to focus on scoring a little bit 5-on-5. Our power play's going very well and our penalty killing's going fairly well. 5-on-5, we need to generate a little more offense."
After spending the past three seasons as coach of the Reading Royals, it didn't take Taylor long to notice some differences in the talent pool out west. The best part, however, is the fact that he no longer has to get on a bus at midnight on Friday for a Saturday night game in Dayton or Toledo.
"I think the biggest difference is it's a little bit more of an offensive-style game," Taylor said. "There's a little more speed and a little more maturity. The travel's a lot easier, because you're not going back-to-back in different cities. There's less nights on a bus. I really enjoy that environment because coaching becomes a bigger factor. It allows you to really get to know the team you're playing against and make adjustments."
So far, Taylor has no regrets about leaving Reading for Ontario. With the Los Angeles Kings on board with the Reign, Taylor has the opportunity to work with Kings brass on a regular basis.
"It's been fantastic," Taylor said. "I'm really happy with the move. My family is very excited about California. It's very nice weather here. On top of that, the organizations have been fantastic to deal with and they're very supportive of what we're trying to do. It's been a lot of fun and a lot of work. But we've really enjoyed it and accepted the challenge. We're a bit of a work in progress, both on the ice and off the ice. But we've definitely got great people in position to help the organization move forward." Around the ECHL
-- Wheeling Nailers rookie Tommy Goebel was named the CCM TACKS Player of the Month for October, as he went 7-8-15 with a plus-10 rating. ... Charlotte Checkers netminder Jeff Jakaitis was tabbed the RBC Financial Group Saver of the Month after going 4-0-0 with a 1.75 GAA and a shutout. The Checkers sit atop the South Division at 5-2-0. ... The Fresno Falcons defeated the Phoenix Roadrunners 3-2 on Wednesday in a shootout that lasted 20 rounds, the second-longest in ECHL history. Hampton Roads and Birmingham went 21 in 1992. ... The Florida Everblades signed Peter Metcalf, the ECHL's Defenseman of the Year for 2007-08. Metcalf had 60 points (7 goals, 53 assists) in 62 games for the Alaska Aces.Contact Brian Compton at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author: Brian Compton | NHL.com Staff Writer