If the American Hockey League’s expansion to the west back in 2015 was a huge help to certain Western Conference teams, the LA Kings and Ontario Reign did one better this past summer when they moved the Reign from their original practice rink in Ontario to the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, the practice rink of the Kings.
With last season’s departure of the Los Angeles Lakers from Toyota Sports Center to their own practice facility, renovations were underway to move the entire Kings operation to Toyota Sports Center.
This included the business operations department, which was, at the time, located in a nearby building. Over the summer, the renovation included adding space to house the AHL-affiliate as well.
“I was pretty excited about it, I was excited about this area, being close to the beach, I like it,” said Mike Amadio, about his thoughts upon first hearing of the Reign’s move to El Segundo.
“For guys who are getting called up, they don’t have to drive an hour to practice, they just come an hour later,” admitted Amadio. “That’s nice, and it’s also nice to have everyone in the organization around, if you want to use some of the development staff when you’re down there or up here, you have that.”
Amadio currently lives with goaltender Jack Campbell and defenseman Daniel Brickley a couple of blocks from the water in Hermosa Beach, where they sometimes go for walks and bike rides. While he is playing for the Kings, he appreciates having the affiliate in-house because it allows him to maintain friendships with those playing for Ontario.
“Probably helped the most by being able to call players up to the Kings very quickly. Now it is basically just walking from one locker room to the other,” said Nelson Emerson, the Kings Director of Player Personnel, of the Reign’s move.
“But the most important reason for the move and what we have seen is the increased time in player development. Now our development staff are able to be hands-on with the AHL players on a very consistent basis. They are able to make use of the [small ice surface] and the classroom to teach on a regular basis.”
“The number one factor for the move is about the players. We want to put them in the best environment. We want them to be put in the best development situation as possible.”
The players, who now all live in the South Bay area, are appreciative of the conveniences being under the same roof provides.
“You don’t have to drive the two hours or whatever it is. That’s a big thing, we all live in the same area,” explained forward Austin Wagner, who has also spent time with both teams this season.
“Last year when guys would be called up they’d be in the hotel, so that’s not very fun being in a hotel if you’re going up and down, so we’re pretty fortunate to have the team here.”
Wagner, who currently lives with Reign forward Boko Imama one block from the beach in Hermosa, feels that the scheduling also works in their favor.
“I think it works too, because our schedules are different. I’m going on the road this weekend and he’s going home, so things balance out pretty well. Or I’ll have a game and he’ll have a practice, so you get the house to yourself a lot, it’s almost like living alone. It works really well,” said the 21-year-old Wagner.
The players are also aware of the benefits they are reaping from a hockey standpoint.
Goaltender Cal Petersen, who has been with the Kings for an extended period of time due to injuries to Jonathan Quick and Campbell, is especially grateful for the teams’ new situation.
“Probably the best thing, regardless of whether you go up or down, is you’re living at your house. If it was like it was last year, I would have been in a hotel for probably two months or something like that, which kind of stinks,” said Petersen, who lives with defenseman Sean Walker and Reign defenseman Matt Roy in Hermosa Beach.
“So I think from that standpoint, especially with the amount of guys who have gone up and down this year, I think that’s probably worked exactly how they wanted it to. You’re getting a chance to have both friend groups; with the guys up here and then also guys down there.”
When commuting to Ontario for games, the players try to carpool as best they can and are compensated for mileage. While that drive is probably the biggest negative, the living situation, the player development perks, and the ease of movement between teams offer a significant and positive advantage.
“You kind of appreciate how amazing it is to live here when you have 10 teammates within walking distance of your house,” said Petersen.
“I love being able to walk down the street and grab a coffee or grab something to eat. It kind of has that sort of feel, you’re still in a big city, but kind of a little bit slower pace, which I like.”