ONTARIO - The announced crowd of 5,623 at Citizens Business Bank Arena got its money's worth Saturday: 60 minutes of hockey, plus overtime, plus the standard five shootout rounds and six more for good measure.
Not until the 11th round of the shootout did Geoff Irwin and Darcy Kuemper give Reign fans what they came for - a win, the first of the regular season, 3-2 over the Stockton Thunder.
"The last chance I got last year, the coach (Hardy Sauter of the Idaho Steelheads) said, `The reason I put you in there was you shoot far side,' " said Irwin, whose far-side forehand surprised Thunder goalie Olivier Roy as he slid to cover the near side. "Going in there, I just kind of heeded that advice."
Bill Bagron and Francois Brisebois scored in the waning minutes of the second period to give the Reign a 2-0 lead, before goals by Kevin Baker and Dan Ringwald tied the game for Stockton in the third. Kuemper, a Minnesota Wild prospect who arrived in Ontario earlier Saturday, made the most of his debut by denying nine of the 11 shooters he faced in the shootout.
The 21-year-old rookie was voted the best goaltender in the Canadian Hockey League last season. Kuemper led all Western Hockey League goaltenders in wins (45), goals- against average, save percentage (.933) and shutouts (13) in 2010-11 with the Red Deer Rebels. His 13 shutouts tied a WHL record.
Kuemper also has four games of experience with the American Hockey League's Houston Aeros in
2010, as well as half a preseason game with Houston - a Wild affiliate - on Oct. 1. That was more than enough preparation for a solid ECHL debut.
"Pro hockey's pro hockey," said Kuemper, who stands a sturdy 6-foot-4.
"The game doesn't change. I kind of got a feel for what pro hockey was, so I knew what to expect here."
Goalies Jase Weslosky and Dustin Carlson are also on the Reign roster.
Carlson was deactivated, though not released, prior to the game. Coach Jason Christie said that Friday night's starter, J-F Berube, would start the Reign's next game, Friday in Las Vegas.
For the Reign, having two NHL-contracted goalies (Berube and Kuemper) bodes about as well for the future as having the first win in the books, though there are still some kinks to be ironed out.
The power play has produced two goals in its first 15 opportunities but has struggled mightily to produce quality scoring chances. The Reign couldn't convert another 5-on-3 chance Saturday, and are now 0 for 2 with the two- man advantage.
"Everyone's still getting used to each other this early in the preseason," Irwin said.
"We're trying to feel out who fits in in the right spots right now."
The Reign still outshot their opponent for the second straight night, 36-30, and Christie saw the effort as a step forward.
"It's a process," he said. "You can't snap your fingers and expect things to change. We've got to get guys to buy in a little bit here and keep moving forward, but I liked the energy our guys had."