Ontario Reign players are used to hearing the booming voice of their head coach Mike Stothers echoing orders.
But this order comes with the territory: Put down the video games and get out.
Such are the perks of life in Southern California, a territory where the temperatures will be about 30 degrees warmer today compared to that in Manchester, N.H. Sunny Southern California, a land where the core group of this team is now transplanted, nearly 3,000 west of their Manchester home just a season ago.
“It’s not your typical hockey weather or hockey environment but the guys know when they come in here, we really don’t even know what’s going on outside,” head coach Mike Stothers said earlier this week. “When we’re in here [in the rink], we’re focused on the task at hand and then when we’re done I think it’s great that they can go out in the sunshine where it’s warm enough to be wearing shorts. I hope they’re going out into the community and doing things rather than sitting in their apartments playing video games.”
When the Reign take the ice for their home opener tonight at 7 p.m. against the Bakersfield Condors AHL hockey will be officially on display in Ontario.
The Los Angeles Kings’ minor-league affiliates traded places in the offseason to bring the primary minor-league club closer to the mothership at Staples Center. Be ready to hear from the likes forwards Michael Mersch and defenseman Vincent LoVerde, key members of this current Reign team who spent last year in Manchester winning the AHL’s Calder Cup as Monarchs. Manchester is now home to the Kings’ ECHL team.
“Everything that goes on in the rink is the same thing that went on in Manchester, so our focus is still on hockey when we’re at the rink,” LoVerde said. The style of hockey in Ontario will be faster, more systems-oriented and closer to the NHL than in prior ECHL seasons.
“I think the excitement is going to be for everyone, for the community here that’s been waiting for an American Hockey League team and they’ve had to wait now three games into the regular season to see the team that they’re going to be cheering for,” Stothers said. “I know that the guys are thrilled to be here in California. We loved our time in Manchester, but we’re looking forward to a new start here.”
There’s plenty for this team to love right here in their new home. The benefits are two-fold, both on and off the ice. For Mersch, who had a strong preseason with the Los Angeles Kings, it allows for him and the next generation of Kings hopefuls to be just an hour drive away from the NHL (traffic permitting, of course) rather than a cross-country flight.
“Obviously it’s a little different feel, but the development staff is able to come down here a lot more and help us, maybe grab a few guys before practice and work on some things so just little stuff like that,” Mersch said.
Ontario already boasts a 3-0-0-0 record from its opening road swing. In their season-opener on Oct. 10, the Reign shut out the very Bakersfield team that they face tonight by a 5-0 margin. Last week they grabbed wins in Winnipeg against the Manitoba Moose. Goalie Peter Budaj was in net for all three victories. Forwards Kris Newbury, who played last season with the Hershey Bears, and Mersch, lead the team with two goals each.
While the road has been a gentle one away from CBBA, the team has been back home practicing this week and enjoying things that would never happen in Manchester in fall.
“We got a good group of guys living together in the same community and there’s a pool there, grills outside, so we’re all able to hang out together,” Mersch said.
“When you’re talking about building camaraderie and team stuff like that, that kind of stuff helps out too. Makes everybody a little more comfortable so little stuff like that, you’re not cooped up in your apartment all day, you’re able to go outside.”
Sounds like Mersch and Co. may be listening to their coach and staying away from Call of Duty.