By J.P. Hoornstra
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin
ONTARIO, Calif. – Less than a year ago, the Ontario Reign had no players, no coach and no arena to play in – only a front office, some papers, some hopes and some dreams.
Now, they have a Pacific Division championship banner hanging from the Citizens Business Bank Arena rafters, and two dozen-plus players with too many fond memories to count.
“It’s the best team I’ve been on for sure,” said team captain Jon Francisco, a journeyman in his seventh year of pro hockey. “I don’t know about talent-wise, but heart and character and quality of people in that locker room – everybody cares so much and everybody’s so proud of each other. There isn’t a selfish guy in there.”
The Reign’s inaugural season, which concluded Wednesday with a first-round Game 7 loss to the Stockton Thunder, ended sooner than any of them would have liked. It also ended far sooner than they expected after sneaking up on the ECHL to win the division in their first year.
They relinquished first place for no more than a week over the season’s final three months after the Fresno Falcons ceased operations in December.
“We made it hard on teams to score on,” coach Karl Taylor said. “That’s what we wanted to be. We knew we had to play that way to have success this year. “We played as a team.”