By Mike Griffith
Californian Staff Writer
The Bakersfield Californian
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – At 5 feet, 7 inches, Reagan Leslie is used to looking up at teammates as well as opposing players.
But don’t let his diminutive size fool you. Leslie packs a wallop and physical play is a big part of his game as a defenseman for the Bakersfield Condors.
“I don’t really think I’m that small out there,” Leslie, 23, said. “I know I am but I don’t think I play like that. When you’re smaller you have to work a little harder and maybe lift weights a little more than the bigger guys do. You train a little harder and keep your fitness up because your legs aren’t as long as everybody else’s.
“I think I’m solid on the ice, maybe because I am lower to the ground. I’m pretty thick. I’m a heavier kid for my size (190 pounds).”
And when Leslie unleashes along the boards, the impact can be significant.
“He’s a short man with big man syndrome,” Condors coach Marty Raymond said. “He plays like a guy who’s 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds. He finishes his checks and is tough to play against.
“Guys have to think twice when they go into the corner with him. His center of gravity is so low when he hits you, you feel it. He’s got an edge and hits as hard as any of our defensemen.”
Leslie was a rookie last year and one of the first players signed for this season.
“When you have rookies we want to see if we can utilize them a second year,” Raymond said. “We work with them all year so why not give them a chance to get better?”
Leslie’s point production (12 points in 34 games) is slightly off pace from last year (23 points in 55 games) but Raymond said his overall play is much better.
“I think he’s improved tremendously over last year,” Raymond said. “He makes fewer mistakes, is more confident, plays hard and plays physical. He moves the puck better and doesn’t try to do everything by himself. That’s a big improvement over last year.”
Leslie said part of that comes from experience.
“I think I’m way more consistent than last year,” he said. “Last year I’d have two good games then two bad games. This year I think I’ve pretty much been on an even keel.
“I’m trying to keep things simple. I’m not worried about getting points. I’m more worried about helping the boys and killing penalties.”
That’s pretty much the attitude of the entire team, Leslie said.
“There’s a lot of guys blocking shots, doing the unselfish things that sometimes when you’re more worried about points you don’t do,” he said.
Leslie is one of 10 players who returned from last season and credits the familiarity with a good deal of Bakersfield’s success thus far.
“A lot of pro teams have just two or three guys back but I think it’s a good idea to have a bunch of guys back,” he said. “The chemistry is there from last year and I think it’s showing this year.
“This team is like a junior team; guys are that close. When you go to pro hockey a lot of guys don’t hang out. It’s a junior atmosphere in our room. Guys get along good. Even off the ice guys are hanging out. We do a lot of team things together.”
The ultimate team goal is to win the ECHL championship and hoist the Kelly Cup together.
“We’re working hard right now but when it really counts is when the playoffs (start),” Leslie said. “We want to win a championship and this year we won’t be happy with anything less.”