Ontario Reign, Eisbären Berlin to Faceoff in AEG Family Affair

Midseason exhibition games are virtually unheard of in North American pro hockey, but that won’t stop the American Hockey League’s Ontario Reign from hosting Eisbären Berlin of the German Deutsche Eishockey Liga in the 2017 International Frozen Friendly. It will be a brother vs. brother battle as both organizations are owned by the Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG also owns the Reign’s NHL affiliate, the Los Angeles Kings, along with part of the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones and other sports/venue ventures).

Damir Sharipzyanov
(Damir Sharipzyanov. Photo credits: Ontario Reign)

Obviously, both organizations being under the AEG umbrella helped to schedule this event, but the logistics of this game could still prove quite tricky. The game is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 13, at 7 p.m. PDT inside the Reign’s home arena of Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, California.

Scheduling Shenanigans

This addition to the Reign’s schedule seems counterintuitive to the reasoning for why the AHL’s Pacific Division plays 68 games instead of the AHL standard 76 games. And as dumb as that sounds, it’s not even the entire Pacific Division that plays a shortened schedule. The two Texas-based teams, the San Antonio Rampage and the Texas Stars, play the full 76-game slate so the division’s standings are determined not by points but by win percentage.

The argument for the shortened schedule is that the players would get more practice/development time along with less travel time and more time to recover from the injuries they’d normally play through. By scheduling a mid-week game after your league schedule has already been set, you show that you really value those things…unless there was money to be made.

The scheduling is simpler and makes more sense for the Eisbären. Like almost all the hockey leagues in the world, the DEL is taking a break during the International Ice Hockey Federation’s fourth international break of the season. That break coincides with a little thing called the Olympics; take note, NHL.

With the DEL taking a break so the best German players can go play in the Olympics, AEG is capitalizing on an opportunity for the Eisbären players to stay in game shape and play in a somewhat competitive game. The extra time off (their last game before the break will be an away game on Feb. 2 then their next league game will be a home game on Feb. 28) will allow the team, coaches, and other hockey operations staff members a chance to recover from the jet lag they will surely encounter flying from eastern Germany to California and back.

Uncompetitively Competitive

Now that all the bashing is done, let’s get to the game itself. Obviously, this will be an exhibition game so neither team will be too keen on playing too hard and risking injury. Factor in that this is a midseason exhibition and that desire to get out of the game injury-free will likely increase greatly. That said, this will be a hockey game with professional hockey players. Hockey players are a prideful bunch. There will be hitting and, despite the result meaning nothing at all, a desire to score and win.

One player with a little more motivation than the rest might be Sean Backman. As noted in the Reign’s announcement of the game, Backman is the Reign’s AHL points leader (the team played in the ECHL from 2008-09 to 2014-15) with 89 points in 135 regular-season games. The right winger moved to Berlin this offseason after a seven-year North American pro career entirely in the AHL except for a five-game stint in the ECHL during his rookie season.

Sean Backman spent four seasons with the Los Angeles Kings’ AHL affiliates in both Manchester, N.H., and Ontario, California.

The ultimate goal is likely to make money and have an injury-free game for both teams. That means a fun, high-scoring, or higher-scoring game, with some defense and some hitting. In the end, my overall opinion on this event is the same as my opinion on the World Cup of Hockey: It’s dumb but I’ll watch.