Reign roster moves – Budaj, Watson to Ontario, Kehler, Strand to Manchester

The Ontario Reign have announced a slew of roster moves in advance of tomorrow’s game against Colorado, the first of two meetings this weekend against the Eagles.

As Jon noted earlier, the first domino to fall is that Peter Budaj has re-joined the Reign. Budaj appeared in 30 minutes of NHL action with the Kings, stopping 10-of-11 shots in a relief appearance on October 13 against Ottawa. In one AHL appearance this season, Budaj earned the Reign’s lone victory to date, a 6-5 overtime win over the Stockton Heat in a wild affair at Stockton Arena on October 6.

In a corresponding move, goaltender Cole Kehler was reassigned from Ontario to Manchester and could make his professional debut this weekend as the Monarchs are home for a pair of games on Friday and Saturday. Kehler was recalled when Budaj went up but did not appear in a game, serving as Cal Petersen’s backup in each game during the Reign’s recent three-game homestand. Manchester plays eight games over the next 16 days, which should allow Kehler to see plenty of work in net. More on the busy Manchester schedule with another move below………

The team made two additional transactions – Forward Spencer Watson was reassigned from Manchester to Ontario, while defenseman Austin Strand was reassigned from Ontario to Manchester.

With just 12 forwards on the roster heading into a road trip, roster moves were also expected for the Reign up front and Watson brings 11 games of AHL experience with the team last season, full rookie and training camp experience and a scoring touch at the ECHL level back with him. Watson had a strong rookie camp to open the season and was expected to compete for a roster spot with Ontario, ultimately falling victim to a numbers game and heading back to the Monarchs.

After he collected a goal and an assist from the first two ECHL games, Watson returns to the Reign looking to cement his place on the AHL roster.

“Watty brings an element of scoring, and with that, he’s actually pretty responsible defensively too,” Ontario Head Coach Mike Stothers said this afternoon. “He’s gone down to Manchester both last year and this year to kind of fine tune his game and I think for him, maybe get a little bit of confidence in his play. I think he’s earned the right to come back up and see what he can do. We’ve got Rempal up and Mitchell still out and it’s kind of a necessity, you don’t want to go on the road and not have enough bodies.”

The other move made today was Strand joining the Monarchs. Ontario has carried eight defensemen through the first five games and has used the same unit of six on the blueline through those games. Stothers noted that the re-assignment is not a knock on Strand’s play, but rather an opportunity to get him some games and some minutes at the pro level, especially during a time where Manchester has a heavy schedule and Ontario’s is a bit light.

“Well, it’s not a matter of him working on anything, it’s just a matter of him playing,”Stothers said. “We’ve got eight defensemen and so far only six of them have played. We feel comfortable that all eight of them can play but you can only dress six. With our schedule the way it is, playing Friday and Saturday basically, and then we’ve got a stretch coming up where we play one game in like 11 days, it doesn’t make much sense when he can go down to Manchester, where I think they’ve got eight games in the same span that we have four. It’s just a matter of him getting some game experience and getting some reps. I think it’s only going to benefit him and it’s kind of hard if you’re sitting in the stands to be improving or to be game ready. There is a start point and there is an end point for him, so we know he’s not going to be banished down there for the rest of the season.”

Strand was in a difficult place in Ontario – There really wasn’t anything negative said about him or his game, other than the fact that there are seven other defensemen that Stothers feels are AHL-caliber. The move to Manchester could be a good chance for Strand to log heavy minutes at the professional level and be ready to come back in and step into the Ontario lineup when the time comes. As Stothers mentioned, there’s an end point established for Strand, implying that we will see him back in Ontario at a pre-determined time.

Looking ahead, a roster of now 22 players (13 forwards, 7 defensemen and two goaltenders) is expected to be in Colorado for this weekend’s tilts. As Stothers noted above, forward Zack Mitchell remains out of the lineup with an injury.

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