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Taylor won't have it easy as coach of Ontario Reign

by Brian Compton

Karl Taylor will be behind the bench this fall as the first head coach of the new Ontario Reign, the Los Angeles Kings' ECHL affiliate.
Karl Taylor loves challenges.

He relishes them, actually.
That’s why it comes as no surprise that the 37-year-old is ecstatic about becoming the first coach of the Ontario Reign. The Reign will begin play in the ECHL next season as the franchise has relocated to California from Beaumont, Texas.

Taylor’s first task is to build a winning team from scratch. Ontario will join the Pacific Division, which hosts annual contenders such as Las Vegas and Fresno. Nonetheless, he’s confident he can put a winning team on the ice when the Citizens Business Bank Arena opens in October.

 “I’m very excited,” Taylor said. “It’s a brand new team and it’s going to be a new market, so all those things are very exciting. When the building gets done, it’s going to be fantastic.”

After being announced as coach at a press conference June 27, Taylor spent time visiting the Reign’s new offices meeting and greeting the staff that is attempting to fill the state-of-the-art facility. The coach came away impressed with his new colleagues.

“We spent a lot of time around the office,” Taylor said. “The staff is outstanding. They’re real excited and they’re pushing the 2,000 mark for season tickets. There’s a lot of excitement around the team. Obviously, with a big, beautiful building like that, it’s going to create some excitement. The town, as far as I can tell, is really getting behind the team. I think it’s going to be outstanding. It’s a beautiful place to live. It’s going to be a great market.”

It is a new chapter for Taylor, who mutually parted ways with the Reading Royals after recording a 112-82-22 record in three seasons as coach. Reading lost in the second round of the 2008 Kelly Cup Playoffs to the eventual-champion Cincinnati Cyclones in a heated seven-game series.

With the Reign landing an ECHL affiliation with the Los Angeles Kings, Taylor opted to make a move. The Kings were previously affiliated with Reading, and Taylor wanted to continue a working relationship with Los Angeles.

“I had a contract with Reading,” Taylor said. “We kind of got talking. It was just a mutual thing where I decided to keep the connection with L.A. and try to keep that network moving in the right direction. We all have aspirations of trying to move up someday and see how far you can push your career. I felt this decision would assist in that process.”

While he’s confident that he made the correct decision, it wasn’t easy to leave the team that gave him his first ECHL coaching job.        

“It was very hard … I loved my time in Reading,” Taylor said. “The fans and (Royals) General Manager Gordon Kaye treated us great. It’s one of the best places in the league to coach and be a part of. It was a tough decision, but in the end, based on the career thoughts and the opportunity to start a new program, my family and I both decided this was the best decision.”

More than ever before, Taylor has his hands full, as he must help build the Reign from the ground floor. As a starting point, the Reign qualified eight players from Texas’ roster – although nearly half of them have already decided to play overseas. The Wildcatters finished atop the South Division in 2007-08, winning 52 of their 72 regular-season games. Taylor will also receive some players from the Kings.

“We will get some guys from L.A. … (how many) is yet to be determined,” Taylor said. “Texas won a few games. You never know what you’re going to get out of that. We did qualify a few guys. I think three or four of them already signed in Europe, so we’ll wait and see.

“It’s going to be tough because we’re kind of starting late. Obviously, a lot of the teams are already out in front with recruiting, but we do have time to recover. It’s going to be a bit of a process and we have to make sure we get the right people in place. We’re not just looking for good players, but also guys who are going to help us sell the product in the marketplace.”

It’s possible that Taylor could lure some players from Reading – he respectfully declined to comment on that issue – but he is ultimately looking for is players who will be excited about giving this new team distinctiveness. It’s a challenge Taylor hopes will bring the character players he’s aiming to land.

“It’s a brand new start. We don’t have the reputation that Reading has created in the last seven years to lean on right now,” Taylor said. “It could be looked at as a negative or a positive. We get a fresh start to dictate what it is going to mean to be an Ontario Reign. What’s that identity going to be? That’s going to be very exciting for us to be able to set the standard for that. But we need to work extra hard as far as building our team and being careful that we bring in the people we want to define ourselves in our first season.”

One thing is certain – Taylor will not be hit as hard on the transaction wire as he was in Reading. With Los Angeles’ American Hockey League affiliate nearby in Manchester, N.H., the Royals frequently lost players to the AHL throughout the season. With Ontario on the other side of the country, the Kings most likely won’t be shuffling players between the AHL and ECHL as much.

 “Geography is a factor in call-ups … we all know that at this level,” Taylor said. “But my philosophy is not going to change. I’ve always pushed guys to the next level. I’ve never once rejected a call-up or tried to hold a kid back. I think that’s very important at our level. We are a development league, and our goals are to allow the kids to go as far as they can and push the envelope. That’s not going to change in Ontario. Kids will get call-ups, but they will probably be longer call-ups instead of the one or two-game call-ups.”
Ducks hire Ferguson – The Anaheim Ducks have hired Augusta Lynx coach Bob Ferguson to be their assistant general manager for their American Hockey League affiliate in Des Moines, Iowa.

During his time with the Lynx, Ferguson compiled a 101-100-15 record in 216 games and led Augusta to the Kelly Cup Playoffs in each year of his tenure. In his new role, Ferguson will serve as the primary liaison between the hockey operations and business side of Anaheim’s top minor-league affiliate.

“The entire organization wishes Bob the best in his new opportunity,” Augusta general manager Dan Troutman said. “While we will miss his leadership behind the Lynx bench, we were pleased to grant Anaheim’s request to speak with and ultimately hire Bob.”

Royals, Leafs team up – The Reading Royals announced Wednesday that they will be the ECHL affiliate for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2008-09. Reading had previously been partnered with the Los Angeles Kings.

“The Maple Leafs’ organization is pleased to join forces with the Royals,” said Jeff Jackson, the assistant general manager and director of hockey operations of the Maple Leafs. “We are well aware of the success that the Royals have experienced in Reading, both on and off the ice, and we look forward to becoming an active participant in that success.”

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