Inaugural USPHL season for Jr. Reign breeds optimism, encouragement for future
The Ontario Jr. Reign came into the USPHL at the start of the 2021-22 season with many question marks.
After going 19-23-2 and qualifying for the USPHL Pacific Division playoffs in their inaugural campaign, several of those questions were answered by the Jr. Reign over the course of the season.
“We came a long way this season,” said Ontario head coach Jeremy Blumes. “As a first-year club, we went from an expansion team prone to mental lapses to a hard-working, capable opponent, to the hottest team in a 64-team league down the stretch. After beating Fresno two of three games on the road, we had a very challenging schedule, and the final week of the season, we played five games in eight days and collected nine of 10 points, earning a playoff spot against the San Diego Sabers (with a 6-4 win), the team we were chasing on the final night. Come playoff time, we didn’t get the results we wanted, but I believe the foundation for success in the future has been paved.
“I was very proud of our efforts. The boys played, won races, finished checks, blocked shots, did all the little things to earn our way in. Along the way, we learned valuable lessons, that when we play the game the right way, the hard work pays off.”
When asked what players stood out to him the most, Blumes noted that “our first rule is that the team comes first.”
“I really believe our success was a result of everyone buying in – ‘we supersedes me,’” said Blumes. “That being said, our leadership group of our graduating 20-year-olds all elevated their level of play and led the way, both on and off the ice. Being a first-year team, it was critical that we found the right leaders and looking back, I am certain we got the right guys with Jackson Wade, Junah Croteau, Aiden Szautner, and Brendan Bauer.”
Blumes was also impressed with the USPHL as a whole.
“The USPHL is a well-established league that offers players a clear path to advancement,” said Blumes. “I believe that we will see a handful of our players make the jump to a higher level next season. At the end of the day, player development, both on and off the ice, is what this all about. Transitioning to the USPHL, which plays by NCAA rules, meant an adjustment for players, coaches, and officials, but I think that by the end of the season, what fans enjoyed were fast, physical and extremely entertaining games.
“Naturally, with this being the first season of the Pacific Division in the USPHL, I think it’s important that we help educate the local hockey community that this is a strong option for player development.”
This season complete for the Jr. Reign, the organization is already looking ahead to the 2022-23 season.
“I’m optimistic that we can build off of our second half,” Blumes said. “That being said, there is always a lot of turnover at this level, so it is critical that we identify and find talent going into next season.”
The Jr. Reign will be hosting tryout camps in the coming months to find players for next season – May 27-29 in Ontario, Calif., and June 3-5 in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.
To register for camp or learn more about the Jr. Reign program, visit www.ontariojrreign.com.
Top photo/Mike Zitek Photography; above photo/Mark Mauno
— Matt Mackinder
(March 11, 2022)