J.P. Hoornstra, Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
Karl Taylor sat at his desk Monday, two days after the Reign's season ended, looking haggard and sounding as if he had a sore throat.
"Just tired," Taylor said.
The coach would be excused for feeling both sick and tired. For the second consecutive season, the Reign finished last in an eight-team conference that sends seven teams to the ECHL playoffs.
If 2010-11 was a simple case of "whatever can go wrong will," it might have been easier to stomach.
"There's a lot of factors that went in to making this a challenging season," Taylor said. "No question about it."
Forget the Reign's ECHL-worst 27-39-2-4 record for a moment. Here's a sampling of some of the hardships they endured:
The Kings didn't assign any NHL-contracted players to Ontario after goaltender Martin Jones won his opening-night start, then promptly was assigned to the American Hockey League.
Alternate captains Jon Francisco (knee) and Chad Starling (groin, sports hernia) were lost for the season to injuries during a six-day span in late November.
Rookie defensemen Eric Doyle (various injuries) and Matt Delahey, who returned to college, were off the roster by the Christmas break.
Leading scorer Jeff Corey, leading goaltender Kellen Briggs and power-play point man Lane Caffaro bolted for Europe during a four-week span in January.
Head trainer/equipment manager Bobby Walls was hospitalized after being attacked by carjackers in the parking lot of a local restaurant after a game in February.
Leading goal scorer Chaz Johnson was the victim of a racial slur during a March game in Utah and was fined and suspended for by the ECHL for an allegedly dirty hit earlier in the game.
In spite of these blows, the Reign might have been able to clinch a playoff spot with a deeper talent pool on their roster.
Depth wasn't a luxury until late in the season, however. The Reign went 8-7 after March 1 but that was too little, too late.
"When we went with a younger movement, then lost some of our veteran guys, it made us too young," Taylor said. "That was an issue at certain points throughout the year."
The coach accepted "full responsibility" Monday for the final outcome. Of the 18 players he selected to dress on opening day, only seven ended the season on the active roster. That doesn't include enforcer James McEwan, who started and ended the season on injured reserve while playing 36 games.
Among the other 11 opening-day players, two ended up in the AHL (Jones, Johnson), two left for Europe (Briggs, Corey), two ended the season on injured reserve (Starling, Francisco), and the other five - Delahey, Doyle, Tim Kraus, Luke Popko and Reggie Traccitto - eventually were traded, suspended or released.
Taylor had to re-stock the roster on the fly at midseason, with mixed results.
Veteran defenseman Shawn Germain, whose 2009-10 season ended because of a wrist injury that required surgery, returned in December for his third tour of duty after missing almost three months to start the season.
"When I first came in ... that (2-11) skid they went on before I got here definitely wore on the team a little bit," Germain said. "I tried to bring probably just a positive attitude, a guy coming in from the outside. It was easy for me to be a little more positive, try to rub off some of my positive work ethic on some of the younger guys."
Germain's work ethic and production helped. So did that of free-agent left wing Alex Bourret, who was lured from the Asian League in December to help offset Corey's point production.
But it took time for the new personnel to put together wins.
The problems began on the back end. Eight goalies (not including emergency backups) and 14 defensemen signed contracts - each more than any single season in the team's brief history.
"There were a lot of things that happened this year that really affected the D-corps and the bodies we had back there," Taylor said. "Our goalie situation ... that really affects your team. We gave up too many goals because of that. That's a huge issue, a big part of the reason and we'll try to address that as we go forward."
Taylor said he hasn't begun to process which players will and will not be back.
His decision will be compounded by the fact many of the team's rookies, especially defensemen, rounded into their roles toward the end of the season.
"At the start of the year we had some real young guys, me included," said forward Aaron Lewadniuk, the team's lone All-Star. "It was kind of an eye-opener, living in California and playing hockey. In the end, you saw everyone getting a little bit more comfortable. Near the end of it you're a veteran and you start playing like one. You're a little bit more confident. At the end of the year I think a lot of the guys ended up playing with confidence."
They also came together as a group in the wake of the on- and off-ice challenges.
"When you go through a lot of adversity - whether it's created by your own play or how situations occur - you come together or you break apart," Taylor said. "We came together."
Next to missing the playoffs, Taylor said he was most disappointed with the team's 12-22-0-2 record at home. But the numbers only tell part of the story, a story that Taylor must re-write in 2011-12 to state his own case in the final year of his contract.
"It was a crazy year," he said. "I don't know how to explain it."
The Reign avoided finishing last in the 19-team ECHL in goals scored for the first time but allowed the most goals in the league.