J.P. Hoornstra, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
ONTARIO - The Reign's locker room isn't very big, but it was big enough to store an elephant for the first four months of the season.
The elephant in the room is gone now, thanks to a 4-2-0 homestand earlier this month. Prior to that, the Reign went just 4-15-0-1 at Citizens Business Bank Arena, a miserable streak that "created a life of its own" in the words of forward Justin Taylor.
On Wednesday, the Reign kicked off a four-game homestand with a 4-3 overtime victory over the Idaho Steelheads.
Kyle Kraemer scored two goals, including the game winner in overtime. Justin Taylor had a second period goal and Jordan Morrison added a third period score.
The Reign take on the Steelheads on Friday and Saturday nights.
As they embark on a last-ditch quest to make the playoffs, the Reign need to make sure the elephant doesn't come back. Nine of their final 17 games are at home, and they can't afford a relapse of their early-season struggles.
"Of course we know these are all big points now," forward Shawn Collymore said. "They were the whole year, but for whatever reason we started that way. Now we know we need points."
The Reign insist there was nothing wrong with the building itself. Their offense started to click beginning with a 4-3 win over the Bakersfield Condors on Feb. 5. During that homestand, the Reign averaged 3.33 goals per game, well above their 2.57 per-game average this season.
"Now that we're starting to put the puck in the net, we're starting to win at home," forward Aaron Lewadniuk said, "and I think that's a huge confidence builder for us."
Coach Karl Taylor downplayed the confidence aspect, noting that he has several veterans on the team who have played in most of the ECHL's buildings. He also pointed to the team's 2-6-1 record in one-goal games on home ice before the Reign started to turn things around in January.
Those games could have gone either way, Karl Taylor said, and when they wind up as losses, "sometimes it becomes bigger than it is. It becomes the elephant in the room."
Back-to-back home wins against the Elmira Jackals in which the Reign scored 11 goals proved to be a turning point, albeit a late one. The Reign are only 2-2-1 overall since then but they've scored more, and been more competitive, than earlier in the season.
"Now I'm excited, the boys are excited to play at home," Collymore said.
"Now that we've got those wins, it just helps you get more and more. It's like a snowball just rolling."
Of course, the turning point could have come too late. The Reign will probably need some help to surpass the seventh-place Victoria Salmon Kings (24-27-1-2, 51 points) and grab the final Western Conference playoff berth.
The elephant can always return, too.
"It's fragile still," Justin Taylor said. "We're not out of the woods yet. We're just trying to push. We know our situation."