The list is long. Too long. To say the Reign are playing shorthanded is an understatement.
They’re without, most notably, constant contributors in Michael Mersch and Teddy Purcell. Also in the injured group are forwards Paul Bissonnette, Joel Lowry and now defenseman Alex Lintuniemi is out along with veteran Zach Trotman, who’s been out most of the season.
“I look at my whiteboard every morning and I see the guys that are on the injured side — Biss comes back, plays 12 seconds or whatever it is, now he’s hurt again,” head coach Mike Stothers said. “We haven’t had Trotman since I don’t know when and I’m probably missing someone else. Joel, Lowry, ya know, holy smokes, how many times can you keep getting hurt? So, let’s get through this and let’s get healthy coming down the stretch.”
It presents the biggest adversity the Reign have faced all season and perhaps in Stothers’ tenure. He was hard pressed to recall the last time his team, since he came on as coach in Manchester two seasons ago, had so many rostered players scratched out. Purcell was hurt in the first practice out of the All-Star break last week and Mersch is now expected to be out another 5-6 weeks, a Kings hockey operations source recently indicated. Both those names are in the team’s top six in scoring, and Purcell has played in nearly half the games this season.
“We can’t look at who’s not in our lineup, we’ve got to look at who’s here,” Stothers said. “I’m looking more to see who’s going to be the guys that step up. I want guys to prove to me that they can play and play a lot of minutes. Again, I go with ‘show me something.’ There’s a lot of them there that need to show me something.
“We know [Jonny Brodzinski] can score. Who else? Show me. So, that’s more what I’m focusing on. In the absence of the guys — we’ve got a long list of guys in that trainer’s room — so, show me, whether you’re up from Manch or just coming in from a different organization or you’ve been here all year long and you’re just waiting for that opportunity. Start showing me.”
The show-me theme extends to the blue line as well. Paul LaDue’s recall to Los Angeles and Lintuniemi’s injury in-game versus San Diego last Friday has left Ontario with again a new-look back end. Defensemen Cameron Schilling and Tom Gilbert aren’t new to the pro game, but they’re new to Ontario.
“There’s lots of opportunities for guys to get more ice time and show what they’re capable of,” said defenseman Kurtis MacDermid. “Big opportunity for those guys and myself as well to take on some more ice time and situations that maybe I don’t play as much when [LaDue’s] down here but when he’s up. So I’ll just try to take advantage as much as possible.”
The leftover minutes fall on everyone’s shoulders. For the Reign to be successful throughout this trying time, they’ll need all players on board — contributions from the ones who have already been steady — Adrian Kempe and Brodzinski, as noted by the coach — as well as efforts from newcomers like Alexx Privitera, Quentin Shore and Miles Koules, should they get in the lineup. The expectations are ramped up on the other side of the whiteboard.
“They’re good hockey players but sometimes they need to be challenged to step out of their comfort zone or go beyond what’s maybe previously expected of them,” Stothers said. “If you’re a so-called checker or penalty killer, doesn’t mean you can’t score. I think in today’s game we’re all guilty of that. You just label one or two guys as your goal scorers. Everybody should be able to score. You don’t have to be pegged in that. Maybe that’s what you’re best suited for in an ideal situation, but in the short term step out, make a contribution.”
The Reign have lost two games in a row and just as quickly lost their grip on first place in the Pacific Division. It’s an all-Pacific Division-opponent week as they host Bakersfield tonight and then San Diego on Friday night before playing in San Jose on Sunday. Righting the ship, no matter the roster, is key.
“It can happen fast with how many games you play in a row,” said Brodzinski, who leads the team in goals with 17. “Right now you’ve got to nip it in the bud and get on the right path again.”
Stothers used Stockton as a reference point. The Flames affiliate was once in first place and has most recently plummeted in the standings.
“We know we’re getting those guys back eventually but in the meantime, the standings the way they are, you see you lose a game in overtime and you lose a game in regulation, you’re not even in first place,” he said. “That’s how dire it is. I referenced a team like Stockton. It wasn’t that long ago they were in first place and now they’re like 1-8-1 in their last 10. So, winning streaks, losing streaks, there’s not that much difference in them. They can build and snowball or get away from ya. We want to make sure that we’re good and sound going into Bakersfield and we’re going to need those guys to step it up, there’s no doubt.”
With nearly one-third of the season complete, how the Reign work through this stretch could define their season.
Brodzinski, on him and Kempe needing to take on bigger roles:
It’s just stepping into a bit more of a leadership role now with obviously some of our big-name guys out,” he said. “We need to be the guys to get the energy going and maybe get the first one and maybe get the guys’ energy up.
Brodzinski, on players stepping into different roles:
I just think that a lot of guys are going to step into roles that they’re not used to and I think we’re going to need a little bit more production out of guys that maybe were just grinders or energy guys. I just think we need to score a little bit more goals now and obviously play a lot better defensively.
Brodzinski, on younger players joining the roster:
I’m pretty sure our whole fourth line now is pretty much just guys that got called up onto the team. This is all new to them so I just think they need somebody to show them the way and get the ball rolling here for them.