Defense, Goaltending Key To Reign Success

By J.P. Hoornstra
Staff Writer
Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

ONTARIO, Calif. – One of hockey’s most enduring water-cooler conversations hasn’t translated to the Inland Empire during the Reign’s first year of existence.

Only three different goaltenders appeared in a game for nearly five months to start the season, and one or two of the goaltenders were usually injured or playing in the American Hockey League. The question of who Karl Taylor should start on a given day was fairly simple.

“It was a little bit surprising this year, with the way it worked out,” Taylor said. “It’s almost like someone got hurt on the perfect rotation so we could keep him.”

It also helped that Jeff Zatkoff, John Murray and Kellen Briggs usually held their own, keeping controversy to a minimum and providing a steady presence from the back end. Even after Murray was traded to Mississippi, and Briggs was promoted to the AHL, rookie Linden Rowat emerged as a capable backup in two late-season starts.

So how is it that these young men have become such bastions of stability?

Some of the credit belongs to a Reign defense that is willing to concede more perimeter shots in exchange for fewer from close range.

As a result, the Reign’s netminders have been among the league leaders in save percentage all year. Briggs’ .927 mark would have led the league if he had played enough games to qualify. Rowat (.921) isn’t far behind and neither is Murray (.917) or Zatkoff (.915).

“We give up a lot of shots, but we really pack it in tight to take away grade-A opportunities and really try to support a goaltender,” Taylor said. “But we definitely expect ’em to make certain saves. They’ve all played well for us this year. Everybody we’ve had.”

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