ONTARIO, CA — With the Los Angeles Kings having failed to earn an invitation to the National Hockey League’s post-season party this year, it might be easy for many to forget that both of their minor league affiliates are in the midst of playoff runs of their own.
Their current American Hockey League affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs, won their first round series against the Portland Pirates in five games (best of five-game series), and will open their second round series against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins this evening (4:00 PM Pacific time in Manchester).
The Kings’ current ECHL affiliate, the Ontario Reign, qualified for second round action by eliminating the Colorado Eagles in seven games. After winning their first two games of their second round series against the Utah Grizzlies in Ontario, the Reign play Game 3 this evening (4:05 PM Pacific time) in Utah.
Helping lead the way for the Reign is Kings defensemen prospect Alex Roach, who started the 2014-15 season with the Reign, and has played there all year long.
“We’re in the playoffs here,” said Reign head coach Jason Christie. “He’s been put in situations to play hard, and he’s doing a good job.”
In his first season in professional hockey, Roach, who was signed to a three-year, entry-level contract by the Kings on September 26, 2011, played in 60 regular season games, scoring two goals and adding 14 assists for 16 points, with a +16 plus/minus rating and 51 penalty minutes.
In nine playoff games this season, the 22-year-old, 6-4, 227-pound native of Quesnel, British Columbia has scored a goal and has added four assists for five points, with a +10 plus/minus rating and 28 penalty minutes.
Roach’s plus/minus numbers stand out—his defensive play was a big part of the Reign ending the regular season as the third-best defensive team in the ECHL.
Frozen Royalty last checked in with Roach back in December 2014, when he had played in just 26 games with the Reign this season, and was still getting his feet wet in the professional ranks.
“He’s a big body with a big stick, and he can move the puck well,” Christie said, at the time. “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.”
Back in December, Christie talked about what Roach needed to focus on to improve.
“Just more one-on-one battles, and…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.”
Fast forward to the present and Roach’s progress is noticeable.
“He’s seeing the ice better and he’s getting his shot through,” Christie noted. “His board play is getting there, for sure. He’s been a guy we’re relying on here. He’s got to continue that.”
“He needs to keep pushing himself, skating, making that first play,” Christie added. “That’s a good thing where he’s come on strong here at the end.”
Roach said that things were tough early in the season, as he struggled to make the adjustment from major junior hockey in Canada (Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League).
“There were some growing pains at the start,” said Roach. “Coach Christie has been really hard on me, but he’s made me a much better player that way. He’s been stern with me. If I’m not playing well, I’m not going to play, so I’ve really got to bear down on each shift. Knowing that my ice time isn’t guaranteed has made me that much better of a player.”
With his size and build, Roach knows that he has to be more of a physical presence.
“[Coach Christie] wants me to be tough on guys,” Roach noted. “Being a bigger guy, I have to be leaning on guys down low in the corners, winning those battles, and getting pucks up to the forwards. He also wants me to have tighter gaps, and I’ve really strived to make that a better part of my game.”
Gap control is critical for a defenseman, and, like so many young defensemen, that was not something Roach was particularly good at coming out of the Western Hockey League.
“Especially at the start of the season, [the Kings] sent me down here because they wanted me to work on my gaps,” he said. “They wanted me to work on being [tougher] on forwards, leaning on guys. I think I’ve taken that more to heart in the second half of the season. I’m just trying to play a little bit harder.”
Roach’s ability to see the ice in order to make that critical first pass has also improved.
“I was talking to [Kings Senior Advisor/Development Coach] Mike O’Connell, and he just said to keep my head up,” said Roach. “The more I keep my head up, the more I can see the plays, and I’m seeing plays developing more by knowing where guys are and being more aware.”
Christie summed up what Roach still has ahead of him.
“He’s got to continue to get better, one-on-one,” said Christie. “His game is simple, but harder, at the same time. He’s got to have that push back, he’s got to own the front of the net, he’s got to make sure he contains. Those are areas he’s still got to work on.”
Roach indicated that consistency is the key.
“It’s just consistency,” Roach emphasized. “You have to be consistent on every shift. That’s something I’m trying to strive for more each day. That just starts with your routine. Everything you do in the morning, workouts, everything like that. You have to keep pushing the pace to get better.”
As with most wet-behind-the-ears prospects who are fresh out of major junior hockey where they have their parents or a billet family taking care of them, Roach found the adjustment to living on his own to be a challenge, as he now has to cook, clean, do his own laundry and take care all the rest of the things most people have to deal with on a daily basis—all for the first time.
Despite that, Roach seems to be making the adjustment to the professional lifestyle just fine, even though his repertoire in the kitchen is a bit limited.
“At the start of the season, it was a bit of a shock to me,” he said. “I didn’t know how to cook too many things. But as the year went along, I learned a couple more recipes.”
“I try to keep my eating pretty clean,” he added. “That’s another off-ice aspect of being a hockey player that helps you in the long run—eating properly—fueling your body in the correct way.”
So what is his favorite dish to cook?
“I think it’s the Chicken Stir-Fry,” Roach said, with a grin. “I’ve kind of mastered that one. I make it three times a week. It’s easy, and it’s pretty good for you, so I try to eat that quite often.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings defenseman prospect Alex Roach, shown here with the ECHL’s Ontario Reign. Photo: David Sheehan/CaliShooterOne Photography/
Frozen Royalty’s Alex Roach Coverage
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