California Rubber

California’s and Nevada’s Authoritative Voice of Hockey

Jr. Reign, Sabers jump out to fast starts to open 2022-23 USPHL campaign


As the 2022-23 USPHL season gets ready to open up November play, two California teams have tasted early success.

The Ontario Jr. Reign and San Diego Sabers are both fielding competitive teams in the Pacific Division this year and both squads have seen their share of wins through the season’s first quarter.

“I am pleased with how our team is coming together considering that the Sabers entered the season with a fresh team and identity,” said Sabers coach Tyler Casillo. “Starting the year with back-to-back series against Fresno and Vegas is a fantastic method to gauge how our young men will handle adversity. They responded by winning both series 2-1. With a record of 7-2-0 right now, I’m eager to watch how this team develops and advances this season.”

“Naturally, early in the year there is room for improvement,” added Jr. Reign coach-GM Jeremy Blumes. “I believe we have a committed group that competes hard. We can score goals in bunches, but where we need to improve is our discipline and play in our own end without the puck.

“We had a bye week last weekend, which was good timing. We held player meetings and identified through video and conversation where our players are at and where we are looking to improve over the next few weeks. It’s an exciting time as the team is really beginning to gel and we are looking forward to competing in our upcoming games. “

The Jr. Reign put up an 8-2-0 record entering the last weekend of October and has its top players to thank for that quick start.

Ethan McKibbin is our leading scorer (top five in the league) and he distributes the puck as well as putting it in the back of the net himself,” Blumes said. “Max Kathol is our captain, a physical 200-foot centerman that leads by example. Aidan Turner is like a bull in a china shop that has a knack for scoring goals on the goalies’ doorstep. Zach Stangness is an electrifying defenseman that is worth the price of admission each and every night.

“While these individual players have stood out, I believe our greatest asset is our depth throughout our lineup.”

In San Diego, Casillo said the Sabers take great pride in the team’s depth and team-first orientation.

“I am quite pleased with how deep we are all around,” said Casillo. “On any given night, any line has a chance to score. Additionally, our penalty kill has excelled, assisting us in leading the charge on special teams. Having said that, some of our players have played exceptionally well to begin the season.”

San Diego starting goaltender Ethan Blackburn is 6-1-0 with a 2.14 GAA and two shutouts so far.

“Ethan is very important to us,” Casillo said. “With one of his shutouts coming against Vegas in a 1-0 match, he has already demonstrated that he has the ability to neutralize any club in this league. I believe that Ethan’s presence in the net will only increase throughout the course of the season.”


Casillo also singled out defenseman Nevio D’Alessandro, who has eight points through nine games, as a “young defenseman who takes charge every shift with both his physicality and offensive skills.”

Lucas Lundy, another defenseman, has seven points through eight games.

“We welcomed Lucas from the BCHL,” said Casillo. “He gives our team a wealth of junior experience and the capacity to make a difference on both ends of the rink.”

Up front, Mario Paganini and Michal Novak, who each have scored nine points, have been driving the offense in a team effort.

“Mario is a skilled forward with a wide range of scoring options in the offensive zone,” Casillo said. “Michal is a forward with exceptional skills who can skate around any defender in the league and shoot the puck with lightning speed.”

With six goals, Ulric Martel leads San Diego in that department.

“We refer to Ulric as a bull,” said Casillo. “He is a powerful skater with a strong shot and possesses the capacity to control the game. Ulric’s growth this season is something I’m looking forward to.”

Moving forward, the division looks to be tight all the way into March.

“I am excited to see how our players continue to develop and play our style of hockey over the coming weeks,” Casillo said. “This year’s Pacific Division race looks to be close. I’m interested in how our team competes throughout the season.”

Saturday, Oct. 29, Lake Tahoe at San Diego, 8 p.m., Icetown Carlsbad
Sunday, Oct. 30, Lake Tahoe at San Diego, 1 p.m., Icetown Carlsbad
Sunday, Oct. 30, Long Beach at Ontario, 2:15 p.m., Center Ice Arena
Monday, Oct. 31, Lake Tahoe at San Diego, 1 p.m., Icetown Carlsbad
Saturday, Nov. 12, San Diego at Ontario, 7:30 p.m., Center Ice Arena
Sunday, Nov. 13, Ontario at San Diego, 1 p.m., Icetown Carlsbad
Friday, Nov. 18, Las Vegas at Ontario, 7:30 p.m., Center Ice Arena
Saturday, Nov. 19, Las Vegas at Ontario, 7:30 p.m., Center Ice Arena
Sunday, Nov. 20, Las Vegas at Ontario, 2:15 p.m., Center Ice Arena

Photos/Mike Zitek

— Matt Mackinder

(Oct. 28, 2022)

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