Jim Alexander, Press Enterprise
When a referee comes up to you and says he's sorry, it leaves something of a hollow feeling.
The Ontario Reign's Jeff Corey heard those words Saturday night. So did head coach Karl Taylor. It wasn't much consolation, after a waved-off goal prevented a regulation victory in a game the Reign lost to Stockton in a shootout, 3-2.
But what can you do?
The scenario: Early in the game, with Ontario killing a penalty, Corey got the puck on a breakaway, came in on Tyson Sexsmith and ripped a shot that not only went in the net, it went through the net and bounced off the boards.
The goal judge missed it. So did the referee, Colin Kronforst. Play continued, as those who used their tickets among the 9,592 distributed wondered if their eyes were deceiving them.
This being a Class AA league instead of the NHL, there was no replay judge, no war room in Toronto to review the call or reverse it. In the ECHL you've got to take what you're given.
"The referee apologized afterward and told me he made the wrong call," Taylor said.
Corey, who later scored a goal that counted when he redirected Eric Doyle's shot past Sexsmith at 15:47 of the first period, said such a play isn't that uncommon.
"The way the net's strung, when it's tight like that, the puck can just slide through it," he said. "It happens all the time in practice."
But when it costs you a goal, and ultimately costs you a point in the standings?
"That would have been huge momentum for our team, getting out in front with a short-handed goal," he said. "It was pretty frustrating not to get it.
"I asked him (Kronforst) -- in a polite manner, of course -- and he did acknowledge that it went in. Obviously, it makes you feel better that he acknowledged it ... but I really wish it would have counted."
Save for a replay judge, the Reign's home opener had something for just about everybody.
Those who come for the fights didn't leave disappointed, although given that the Reign and Thunder have now played each other six times in a little more than two weeks (including two exhibitions), it was surprising the gloves weren't dropped more often.
And we were reminded that in the ECHL it's still kosher to pull the sweater over a guy's head, a practice that has been pretty much eliminated in the NHL.
Reign defenseman David Walker used that advantage to pepper Cameron Brodie with lefts and rights a little less than 10 minutes into the game.
Later, Ontario's Aaron Lewadniuk had Jordan Freeman's helmet off and his sweater over his head, but he never had a chance to throw a punch before the linesman broke things up.
The look on his face was classic, like a kid being told on Christmas morning that Santa had skipped his house.
Oh, and where else can you see the overtime rules adjusted on the fly?
Overtime, normally four skaters against four, started out three on three because of penalties. But when Stockton's Fraser Clair went off for holding at 1:35 of overtime, Kronforst directed each team to add a skater for the remainder of the period. No three-on-two here.
But the best moment, the one that encapsulates the utter unpredictability of minor league hockey?
It had to be the guy in section 115 who proposed to his girlfriend, on the video board, engagement ring and all, in the final 20 seconds of regulation with a 2-2 tie and the Reign pressing for the winning goal.
They didn't get the goal. But she happily accepted the ring, so the night did have one happy ending.