SHEL SEGAL, Fontana Herald
The Ontario Reign, in just their second year of existence, had the honor of hosting the annual ECHL All-Star Game and Skills Competition on Jan. 19 and 20 at Citizens Business Bank Arena.
While the inclement weather kept some away, those who braved the rain (no pun intended) and sleek freeways and streets were treated to a hockey fan’s delight.
Justin Kemp, general manager for the Reign, said not only was the action good on the ice, but also in the coffers of many local businesses, something that is very much needed right now in the Inland Empire.
“Overall, I’d have to say we were very, very pleased with the outcome,” Kemp said. “I have heard actually that the hotels in this area for that week had their best week in three years. Without having any hard numbers, I would say that says a lot about the economic impact for those couple of days.”
He also said the arena was very full even though many fans stayed home because of the stormy weather.
“From a ticket sales standpoint, it went fantastic, despite having about 3,000 no-shows because of the rain,” Kemp said.
The ECHL website listed the official attendance for the game at 7,615.
This was the first All-Star Game to be decided by a shootout as the American Conference defeated the National Conference (of which the Reign are a member), 10-9.
The 19 goals scored set a record for most goals in an ECHL All-Star Game.
Representing the Reign were team captain David Walker, left wing Peter Lenes and forward Greg Hogeboom. Both Walker and Lenes scored goals in the contest.
A FEW HOURS BEFORE THE GAME, the league held a luncheon at the Ontario Hilton, where the keynote speaker was Luc Robitaille, a member of the NHL Hall of Fame and president of business operations for the Los Angeles Kings.
Robitaille said he almost didn’t make it to the NHL.
“I was the guy not a lot of people believed in,” he said in front of an audience of several hundred. “I was picked in the ninth round. A scout from the Kings believed in me. But even the pitcher Tom Glavine was drafted ahead of me.”
Robitaille said during his playing career he was always there to have fun and not make it a job. He also wanted to leave everything out there on the ice once the game had finished.
“For me, it was very simple: It was never work, but I made sure I had no regrets over every game I played,” he said. “From the time I was 17 years old, I told myself that.”
In addition, he said he was glad he got to choose when it was time to walk away from the ice rink.
“I was fortunate I was able to pick my moment and retire,” he said. “As a player I squeezed a lemon. There was nothing left. But I’m fortunate today to still be involved.”
THE NIGHT BEFORE THE GAME was the skills competition. Events included who could skate the fastest, an obstacle course, a relay event and a contest to see who could hit the hardest puck, with the fastest speed being recorded at just under 102 mph.
AND IN MORE HOCKEY NEWS, nearly 8,300 fans came out to see the Reign battle the Alaska Aces Saturday night at CBBA in what was a fundraising event with the American Red Cross Inland Empire chapter.
Reign spokesperson Laura Tolbirt said the team partners with the local Red Cross to ensure the help organization is well equipped in times of disaster.
“We need to support them so they have enough supplies to help the local community,” Tolbirt said.
Yevette Ramos, chief operating officer for the local Red Cross chapter, said the event was connected to two others that were done with the Reign last year and that those events raised more than $60,000.
“All the proceeds we raised tonight get added to that, which means we’ll hit more than $100,000,” Ramos said. “That is for the Inland Empire’s Services and Programs. That covers Yucaipa to Chino Hills and everything in between and up to the mountains. We’re responsible for about 1.5 million people.”
Ramos added the money is used often for disasters that don’t generate much coverage in the media.
“This supports everything we do, from single family fires to large brush fires to education, training and preparedness,” she said.
To help the American Red Cross Inland Empire chapter, log onto www.ie-redcross.org.
AND HOW DID THE REIGN DO AGAINST the Aces? After falling behind, 2-0, early in the first period, the Reign came back and tied the game late in the first on two goals by Michael Pelech, giving him seven goals on the year.
The Reign took the lead, 3-2, early in the third period on a goal by right wing Sean O’Connor off assists by center Jon Francisco and right wing Tony Voce. Two empty netters in the final minute sealed the 5-2 victory for the Reign.
One last note: This game was the 250th professional game in Francisco’s career.