Reign Prep for the Unfamiliar with Lake ErieMay 18, 2016
By Lindsay Czarnecki
Reign Insider | @ReignInsider
The Reign don’t know much about the Lake Erie Monsters.
Unlike their previous two playoff opponents, San Jose and San Diego, they didn’t meet 12 times in the regular season. They didn’t meet once.
It makes preparation for the Western Conference Finals all the more interesting.
“It’s good and bad,” head coach Mike Stothers said. “They don’t have a book on us either. So, that’s where you rely on your video and scouting, through those resources. Plus, we always reach out to coaches that have played them a lot of times. I’m sure they’re doing the same. We’ve all got buddies in the league, so you hit those guys up.”
Stothers admitted on Tuesday that he hadn’t yet watched Lake Erie’s Game 6 clinching win over Grand Rapids in the Central Division Finals from Monday. He was busy catching up on their other games. While the players had two recovery days after closing their series against San Diego on Saturday night, there was little time to take breaks for Stothers and assistant coach Chris Hajt.
Video will be integral to the process, but it’s almost important to not overdo it.
“You don’t want to have to too long or too extended for any one day,” Stothers said. “It’s kind of better to have a couple things you want to hit them with today, a couple things you want to hit them with tomorrow. They tend to absorb it, retain it, and then apply it better than if you jam it all down. Sometimes you’re forced to if there’s not much time between series.”
While much was made of the Reign’s deep rivalry with San Diego before they went on to win that series four games to one, the feeling of facing Lake Erie is almost the exact opposite. The unknown is welcomed this time around.
“In a way it’s kind of exciting to play a fresh team and have really no background with them,” said defenseman Kevin Gravel. “Just kind of going in and just playing. It will be fun. I think guys are excited to get going here and once Saturday rolls around hopefully we’re ready to go.”
What they do know at first glance is the Monsters have the best power play in these Calder Cup Playoffs at a 28.6 percent success rating. They have a young sensation in 18-year-old defenseman Zach Werenski, who came to Lake Erie fresh off his season with the University of Michigan. Stothers compared him to a young Larry Robinson.
In the eyes of the players and coaches, no matter who is on the other side, execution of their own game plan is the top priority.
“We’re both unfamiliar with each other,” said winger Justin Auger. “I think we’re just going to focus on us and we’re going to play the same way no matter who our opponent is.
“That’s what it’s always been about. It’s been about what we do and not what the other team does. We’re going to show up and play our game.”
Defenseman Jeff Schultz added that it makes being ready for Saturday’s Game 1 in Ontario all the more important. The Reign took the first game in their first two series and if they can have another good start they can just, “make adjustments as the series goes on,” Schultz said.
The Reign were given a similar setup just last year when as the Manchester Monarchs they faced a Utica team they did not meet in the regular season in the Calder Cup Final.
“It’s a little strange going into an arena and playing a team that you haven’t played before, especially when they’ve been in your conference all year,” center Nic Dowd said. “I don’t think it poses any challenges that both teams can’t overcome but obviously film will be pretty important.”
There’s only so much both sides can do in the days they have to prepare. There’s no history between the teams to turn to. Sometimes teams just have to go out and play.
“When you watch these teams, there’s always going to be some subtle differences but the game is the way it is,” Stothers said. “I think if we play our game the way we can play it, I think that’s important to us. I don’t want to have to think too much about what the opposition’s doing. Let’s be aware of what their tendencies are maybe, some faceoff plays, their power play and their penalty kill of course.
“The game is what it is. Nobody can reinvent the game.”