AUDIO: Story includes audio interviews with Ontario Reign head coach Jason Christie and Los Angeles Kings defenseman prospect Alex Roach.
ONTARIO, CA — The name, Alex Roach might not be familiar, but if he plays his cards right, and if the Los Angeles Kings guessed right back in 2011, he might be wearing a Kings jersey in a few years.
Roach, a left-shot defenseman prospect, played four seasons for the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League, but was not drafted by a National Hockey League team. He was, however, invited to the Kings’ 2011 training camp, and turned enough heads to earn a three-year, entry-level contract, signed on September 26, 2011.
After joining the Kings for their 2014 training camp, the 21-year-old native of Quesnel, British Columbia was assigned to their primary minor league affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League, for their training camp.
But with the Monarchs lineup filled with prospects who are further along in their development, there was no room for the lesser experienced Roach. As such, he was assigned to the Reign to start the 2014-15 season, where he has played in 22 games, contributing seven assists, with a +10 plus/minus rating and twenty penalty minutes.
Like most young players coming out of major junior hockey in Canada, Roach was disappointed that he was not able to stay with the Kings or the Monarchs. But he did not let his disappointment distract him from the task at hand.
“I didn’t really know what to expect, coming into [the Kings training camp],” he noted. “I just wanted to go in there, work as hard as I can, and just try to improve. But being down here now, I’m part of this team, so I’m trying to help this team win every single night, and by doing that, trying to make myself better every night as well.”
After only 26 games in the professional ranks, Roach has much to learn. But Reign head coach Jason Christie is high on his youngest blue liner.
“He’s a big body with a big stick, and he can move the puck well,” said Christie. “He gets into trouble when he starts looking for three or four options instead of moving it, but he gets up ice, he’s got good gaps, and he’s solid on the back end.”
“We’ve got a lot of injuries, and he’s been able to step up right now,” added Christie. “We’re excited with his play.”
A very positive sign for Roach is that he has earned enough trust from his head coach to play significant minutes on the penalty-kill.
“That’s definitely one part of my game where I feel that he’s got a little trust in me,” said Roach. “I’m really trying to bear down when I’m on the penalty-kill, and not give up any goals, or give up any opportunities, and take as much pride in that as I can.”
“He’s got the big reach, that long reach,” Christie noted. “It’s a battle, and he’s out there on the PK, doing it.”
At 6-4, 228 pounds, Roach is not your typical offensive, puck-moving defenseman. But he is also not a slow, plodding behemoth on skates, either. In fact, he considers his ability to move the puck and to jump up into the play, on occasion, to be strengths of his game,
“I’m a big defenseman who can move the puck, sometimes jump into the rush, and hopefully, defend well,” he said. “That’s what I’m trying to work on, my foot speed, trying to get into guy’s faces a little bit more, and trying to be a little more aggressive.”
“My shot is [one of the strong points of his game],” he added. “I have a fairly decent shot. The way the Kings gave it to me, my vision on the ice, making those short, easy passes is one of my strong suits, and what I should build my game [from]. [I just have to] work on my defensive play and be more aggressive.”
The Kings also pointed out some things Roach needs to work on, especially in his own end.
“Just closing gaps quicker, closing down plays,” he explained. “I think being more physical is something they want me to work on, as well.”
Christie also noted some areas of the game where Roach needs to improve.
“Just more one-on-one battles, and again, making sure that first pass [connects],” said Christie. “Moving his feet. Those are the three things [he needs to work on the most].”
“He’s learning,” added Christie. “He’s got to be moving his feet, and going through more bodies. But he’s willing to learn, and he’s working hard.”
Christie also added some perspective.
“We’re only twenty-something games in,” Christie emphasized. “He’s coming along.”
Having graduated from Canadian major junior hockey to the pros, Roach has had a little difficulty in making the adjustment. One example was on December 12, 2014, when the Reign hosted the Utah Grizzlies.
During what would end up as a 2-1 victory for the Reign, Roach, as reported earlier, has good puck moving abilities, including making the first pass to clear the defensive zone. But as also noted earlier in this story, there are times when he has had difficulties in that regard at the ECHL level, and this game was no exception—very few of his clearing passes got out of the defensive zone, giving the Grizzlies more time in the offensive zone and more scoring chances.
“[Getting that first pass out] has been an issue, at times, but at the start of the season, that was the strong suit of my game,” said Roach. “I’m trying to get back to that as much as possible. I just have to work through that, battle through some adversity, and try to get better.”
“Junior is a little bit slower,” added Roach. “Here, definitely, guys are giving you less time and space, so you’ve got to adjust to that, get your head up a little quicker and make that pass.”
Another adjustment has been the move from what the Kings and Monarchs were doing in their training camp and pre-season games, compared to how the Reign play.
“It’s a little different from when I was up there in L.A., or when I was up in Manchester,” Roach noted. “The play is a little bit different. Guys are, I don’t want to say that they’re all over, but it’s a little more structured up there.”
“It took awhile for me to get used to, but now, down here, I think I’m starting to see the ice a little bit better,” Roach added. “I’m getting used to our system, and what our system is trying to achieve.”
Roach has also shown his dedication towards becoming an NHL player with a lot of hard work off the ice.
“He’s good,” said Christie. “We’ve got a strength guy who works with him. [Reign strength and conditioning coach] Brent Bilbe does a great job with these young guys. At this level, it’s important to have that.”
“It’s how [much work] you put into it,” added Christie. “[It’s] the workouts before practice, the workouts after practice. It’s that dedication. It’s not just coming to the rink. Everything’s got to come, two-fold.”
If Roach continues on that path, with his size, it would not be a surprise to see him shoot up the Kings’ depth chart quickly.
Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Ontario Reign Head Coach Jason Christie (1:41)
Alex Roach (4:01)
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