Some notes from a small group practice for the Reign at Citizens Business Bank Arena this fine Wednesday in Ontario.
–The day after a 5-2 win in Bakersfield, it was a less-than-15 member group that took the ice for practice. The skate was led by assistant coach Chris Hajt and goalie coach Dusty Imoo. Role call: Goalie Michael Houser, defensemen Kurtis MacDermid, Zach Leslie, Nick Ebert and Kevin Raine, and forwards Matt Leitner, Kris Newbury, Jonny Brodzinski, Joel Lowry, Andrew Crescenzi and Adrian Kempe. Newly-arrived forward Matt Schmalz was also on the ice (more on him in a moment).
–Left wing Michael Mersch, who was hit hard by Tyler Pitlick with less than a minute to go in Tuesday’s game, did not practice. Head coach Mike Stothers deflected questions related to Mersch’s status Tuesday night, but said Wednesday, “I think he’s fine, he got a maintenance day as well as quite a few of the other ‘older’ guys.”
–Forward Jordan Samuels-Thomas (lower-body injury) missed Tuesday’s game but the timeframe for his return seems on the shorter side. “His is pain-tolerable,” Stothers said. “Soon as he can manage to feel comfortable on the ice, he can play. It’s not like he’s going to do any more damage to himself. So, it’s just quite tender. … He could be possible for Friday, or Saturday, or soon.” Samuels-Thomas has 19 points (11 goals, 8 assists) in 51 games this season.
–Schmalz, a 2015 draft pick of the Kings, just wrapped up his season with OHL-Sudbury and has extended his hockey season by joining the Reign. Schmalz met the team in Bakersfield after getting the call from Mike Futa. He watched from the stands Tuesday and got a friendly welcome on the ride to Ontario. “They gave me a spot on the bus without no problems of doubling up or any older guys sitting in front of me, so it was good,” Schmalz joked. Similar to last season where the AHL affiliate brought on Adrian Kempe, Jonny Brodzinski and others late, Stothers recalled, it’s a chance for Schmalz to learn about life as a pro. “There is no mandate to play him, but the way things are shaping up he might get in and we might put him in just to see what he can do,” Stothers said. Stothers compared Schmalz to a Justin Auger-type, a big, heavy winger. When asked to characterize his own play, the 20-year-old said he’s an “up and down” the boards forward with a bit of a scoring touch in front of the net. That scoring touch was lost somewhat this year, something that Schmalz offered up as an honest assessment of his own game. After a 24-goal season in his draft year, he had just nine this season. “I think it was kind of a learning experience for me,” Schmalz said. “I was an older guy and I tried to take the season into my own hands which kind of led myself into making some selfish plays. I put too much pressure on myself and wasn’t really playing like I was in my draft year.” Stothers does seem willing though to insert him into the lineup in the regular season so long as the Reign are moving along with what they want to accomplish, and so long as the 6-foot-5 Schmalz deserves it. “He’s got to come in here and he’s got to earn the right through his practice habits and his hard work … he’s got to try to impress us as a coaching staff in a short amount of time,” Stothers said.
–Jonny Brodzinski has watched two St. Cloud State alums make their NHL debuts this season with Nic Dowd’s Tuesday showing in Minnesota and Kevin Gravel’s earlier this season. For Brodzinski, a former Husky himself, it’s encouraging. “It’s awesome for them obviously but it just shows you how close everybody is,” said Brodzinski, who notched his 12th goal of the season in last night’s win. “Dowder came in last year, he had a good rookie season and now he’s tearing it up this year. He deserves everything he’s getting.”
–Due to Kris Versteeg (foot) being injured and Tanner Peason missing Tuesday due to a personal reason, the support of Dowd was needed for the Kings. It’s expected Dowd will return to the Reign soon, something that Stothers said takes a bit of the pressure off. “I did say to him that there’s nothing really to be nervous about because the chances of [him] remaining up there are slim. It’s not meant as a derogatory thing but you know you’re coming back,” Stothers said. “It’s not because you’re making a mistake, it’s just that’s what’s going to happen, so just go out and play. Be yourself, and I think he looked like he was making some plays. I think it’s a good first taste for him. And it was certainly well-deserved.” Stothers said the coaches had the Kings-Wild game on in the coaches’ room in Bakersfield, so he caught a bit of Dowd’s debut. “Got to see a few shifts. I thought he looked good,” Stothers said. “At the end of the night I think he had over 12 minutes of ice time, which is huge. We did see him out there on the power play, which I thought he looked good. Doesn’t matter much what I think, hopefully the coaching staff there was happy with the way he played.”
–With versatile defenseman Vincent LoVerde (neck/throat) missing the last three games and more to come, the back end has been shuffled quite a bit. As a result, MacDermid, who’s been paired with LoVerde all along, is seeing time with a new partner in Gravel. “Hasn’t been too bad,” MacDermid said. “Obviously we’re used to playing with different D partners in certain situations of the games. … I’m playing with Gravs now, so he’s a great player and we gel really well together and hasn’t been too much of a difference. You want to just keep playing as you are.”
–The Reign are slated for a full team practice Thursday at 10 a.m.