The Ontario Reign completed a cross-country move this summer, and they brought a Calder Cup pedigree with them.
Playing as the Manchester Monarchs last season, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings won the Calder Cup before relocating to California. The move from New Hampshire put the Reign less than an hour from Staples Center, making for much easier player recalls and regular access for Kings management to keep an eye on its AHL prospects.
The move west has already started to pay off for the Los Angeles organization logistically.
"We've had a lot of communication with the Kings," Ontario coach Michael Stothers said. "It's a lot easier for [management] to get in and just even see a couple of practices. We have [Kings assistant general manager] Rob Blake coming in, [vice president of hockey operations and director of player personnel] Mike Futa coming in, as well as our developmental [staff]."
Ontario is off to a 3-0-0-0 start and has allowed one goal. Imprinting the Kings' identity on AHL prospects remains a key organization point of emphasis.
"We want to play and conduct ourselves with the Kings' mentality where we're hard to play against every game, we play a heavy game, we play in all three zones and we've got five guys on the ice connected," Stothers said.
That mentality trickles down to the dressing room.
"The communication is much more frequent," captain Vincent LoVerde said. "You can get a little more feedback from all of the staff. We run the same exact systems. We try to play the same game."
Several players have departed since last season. AHL most valuable player Brian O'Neill was traded to the New Jersey Devils and goaltender Jean-Francois Berube was claimed off waivers by the New York Islanders. Defenseman Colin Miller was traded to the Boston Bruins. Centers Nick Shore and Jordan Weal earned jobs with the Kings in training camp.
But the Reign return 13 players from the 2015 playoff roster, setting a foundation for incoming prospects.
"Even though we're not the same team as we were last year, that formula is in place," forward Sean Backman said. "We want to take that formula, which is a lot of hard work, a lot of team-first guys, and want to instill that into this season."
At forward, the Reign have several top prospects. Left wing Adrian Kempe, a first-round pick (No. 29) in the 2014 NHL Draft, had nine goals in 17 playoff games last season as an AHL rookie. Valentin Zykov, a 2013 second-round pick (No. 37), will be counted on to produce offensively. Power forward Michael Mersch, a 2011 fourth-round pick (No. 110), had 22 goals as a rookie last season.
Injured goaltender Patrik Bartosak played a key role in the Monarchs' postseason run and defenseman Kevin Gravel is an intriguing prospect.
However, Ontario also possesses a pair of 30-and-up goaltenders in NHL veterans Peter Budaj and Ray Emery, something that is rare in the prospect-oriented AHL. The two have a combined 587 NHL games. Budaj has two shutouts in three games this season, making a total of 41 saves in the two wins.
NHL veterans Jamie McBain and Jeff Schultz further firm up the blue line.
"The guys we have form a good nucleus," Stothers said. "I think we'll have a different look. We might not be as high-powered offensively as maybe we were at times last season, but that's a good thing too. A guy like Mersch can continue to expand and develop into the player we know he is going to be and possibly be playing with the Kings sooner rather than later."
Changing times: Stothers and Toronto Marlies coach Sheldon Keefe are two products of a different era in the AHL.
Keefe was a second-round pick (No. 47) of the Tampa Bay Lightning in 1999 and played parts of three seasons with the Lightning in the early 2000s.
"When I played, you got sent down, kind of did your thing and if somebody got hurt [the NHL team] would call on you," Keefe said. "Other than that, there wasn't a lot happening."
A first-round pick (No. 21) by the Philadelphia Flyers in 1980, Stothers played his first full AHL season in 1982-83. The rugged defenseman played 10 seasons in the AHL and had 1,840 penalty minutes in 672 games. He has won a Calder Cup as a player, assistant coach and coach.
Stothers was among the toughest of players in one of the toughest leagues at the time. He had 221 penalty minutes with the Hershey Bears in 1985-86, which only ranked him fourth on the team.
"The AHL has changed," Stothers said. "It has become more of a developmental league. Younger. I think back to my Hershey days, we had a lot of veterans. We had some great success. A lot of time and money invested in these players, and with the salary cap the way it is, you need to be developing players that can step in and play."
"It's a different world. I think the game has never been better. The AHL doesn't get enough credit for the talent that they have, the speed in which it's played and guys that are trying to live the dream and become NHL regulars."
Let’s play two: One of the wrinkles of AHL scheduling is teams sometimes play back-to-back games against each other in the same building on consecutive nights to reduce travel expenses.
The Manitoba Moose will host the Lake Erie Monsters this week, the third time in 15 days that they have played a two-game series against an opponent.
"It's different, not having played that in a while," said Moose forward Matt Halischuk, who is back in the AHL on an extended stint for the first time since the 2010-11 season.
"It definitely makes for some heated games, especially the second game. It's almost like a mini-playoff series weekend that you prepare for. It's fun, and definitely the excitement kind of builds throughout the week."
Around the AHL: The AHL named Texas Stars center Devin Shore its CCM/AHL Player of the Week for the period ending Oct. 18. The 21-year-old had five goals and an assist in three games, including a hat trick Oct. 17. A second-round pick (No. 61) of Dallas in 2012, Shore played 19 games with Texas at the end of last season after three seasons at the University of Maine. … St. John's IceCaps rookie forward Michael McCarron had his first pro hat trick in his fourth pro game Oct. 17. … Providence Bruins captain Tommy Cross, a 2007 second-round pick (No. 35), made his NHL debut Oct. 14 with the parent Boston Bruins. Cross, 26, spent parts of four seasons with Providence. … The Grand Rapids Griffins, considered by many AHL observers to be a top contender this season, have started 0-4-0-0. They have four goals. … Texas (4-0-0-0), Ontario (3-0-0-0) and the San Diego Gulls (2-0-0-0) are the remaining undefeated teams. …. Texas scored 19 goals in three games last week. … The Bridgeport Sound Tigers started the season a franchise-best 5-0-0-0 before a 5-1 loss against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on Oct. 18. … Iowa Wild goaltender Leland Irving's shutout Oct. 17 was his first in the AHL since the 2011-12 season. Irving, 27, was the Calgary Flames' first-round pick (No. 26) in 2006 and spent the past two seasons in Europe.