California Rubber

California’s and Nevada’s Authoritative Voice of Hockey

With Blumes at helm, USPHL’s Jr. Reign takes big step in 2023-24, eyes more improvement in ’24-25


In just their third season as a junior hockey franchise, the Ontario Jr. Reign won the USPHL Premier Pacific Division championship and qualified for USPHL Nationals in March out in Utica, N.Y.

Jr. Reign coach-GM Jeremy Blumes, who has been with the program all three seasons, said the 2023-24 season in Ontario was a successful one and one that the franchise can build on for the 2024-25 season.

“The most obvious highlight is sweeping Fresno in the division final and earning a berth in the national championships,” said Blumes. “This season was the most cohesive, hard working and dedicated group we’ve had, and come playoff time, I think that commitment resulted in a division title. We have a number of players that are advancing to play at higher levels of junior and college that will be announced shortly.

“Another big highlight for us was our players’ involvement here in the Inland Empire community. Working with the USO, the United Way and the Road Hockey Rulez program where our players teach road hockey fundamentals on a weekly basis within the Ontario Montclair School District are all accomplishments that we are very proud of. All of our work in the community helps our players become better people while also serving as a team building tool. I really think a huge part of our success is how much time our players spend with one another with these community initiatives.”

On the ice, Blumes said a number of players had standout playoff performances.

Josh Henson, who returned for his second year with the Jr. Reign, was far and away the best goalie in the Pacific Division when it mattered most – four wins, 1.18 goals-against average, .952 save percentage. Rhys Doyle was dynamite making key plays at both ends of the ice and on both special teams. He had four goals and seven assists in five games including the overtime game winner in Game 2 against Fresno. Longtime Jr. Reign star and captain Eamon Julian played a critical role in shutting down the USPHL’s all-time leading goal scorer, Noak Persson, who was held off the scoresheet in the series finale.

“The day I got this job was during the last week of July, six weeks before the season was to begin with only three players signed, two of them being goalies,” Blumes said. “It’s been a challenge from the very beginning, but from Day 1, my mantra has been to embrace the grind, enjoy the process. By staying focused on how we could improve the program, help our players improve, enjoy the experience more, the program has naturally evolved into what I believe is one of the top Tier III destinations in the nation. That being said, nothing changes. I wake up every morning saying to myself, ‘How can we improve this program?’

“I watched playoff games being played at USPHL Nationals from the corner of Rink 1 in Utica, and vowed that would be the last time I would be watching those games as a spectator. Being behind the bench is my favorite place in the world. There is plenty of fuel for my fire to continue to improve this program entering Year 4.”

Heading into the 2024-25 season, Blumes will have added responsibilities as he’ll be overseeing both the Jr. Reign and San Diego Sabers as executive director.

“Through the OJR’s success, I believe we’ve developed a blueprint for operating a successful junior franchise,” Blumes said. “For both operations, OJR and SDS, the objective is the same, player development both on and off the ice. My role as executive director is to help facilitate the Sabers success working with coach James Spaargaren and the rest of the Sabers staff.

“We just held a camp in Carlsbad with over 70 skilled, determined hockey players, many of them local. I truly believe the Sabers offer great value for players and families in the area. Practice every day, train at two different state-of-the-art facilities in HDC and Resilliant, along with Coach Spaargaren, experienced professional player and coach Tomas Kapusta focusing on Sabers on ice development, there’s also a full-time goalie coach, and there are many other exciting developments in the works. We expect the Sabers to take a big step forward this season.”

In his time in Southern California, Blumes has seen the growth of junior hockey and the USPHL on the West Coast morph into a positive for the sport.

“Each season, the quality of play in the USPHL has improved,” said Blumes. “As well, I scout for the Johnstown Tomahawks in the NAHL and this was my third year of the NAHL Combine in Anaheim. I watched many of the 2010s and 2009s as well as the junior-aged players and there is a ton of local skill and talent here on the West Coast. I certainly think that if we can open some more ice sheets within the area to help offset the pricing, the sport will continue to grow exponentially.

“Hockey is very much alive and well on the West Coast, and I am honored to be a part of our hockey landscape.”

Photos/Ontario Jr. Reign

— Matt Mackinder

(May 15, 2024)

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