UPDATE: This story has been modified with new information.
D.J. King got an immediate introduction to the rivalry between the Ontario Reign and Stockton Thunder.
King, who has previous National Hockey League stops with the St. Louis Blues and Washington Capitals, signed and played his first game with the Reign on Wednesday night – a 4-1 Ontario victory.
On his first shift of the game, King went after the puck behind the Stockton net and laid a heavy hit on a Thunder defender and was immediately run at and fought with the Thunder’s Garet Hunt.
Welcome back to the ECHL.
“My game’s not going to change no matter what – get the puck deep and go and crash,” King said. “I wasn’t thinking about getting into a fight so quick, but it’s part of the game I guess.”
King, 28, last played in the ECHL during the 2005-06 season with the Alaska Aces. The next year, he split time with the Blues and the American Hockey League’s Peoria Rivermen. In all, he has plaed 91 games in the NHL, with his last action with the Capitals in the 2011-12 season. He finished the season with the Hershey Bears.
But then the lockout came, and King was left without a team until Wednesday. Ontario turned out to be a good fit because of a unique family tie.
D.J.’s younger brother is Dwight King, a left wing with the Los Angeles Kings, who spent 20 games with the Reign during the 2009-10 season.
“I had a couple of options, so I wasn’t sure what I was going to do,” D.J. King said. “My brother plays for the Los Angeles Kings. I’ve got a horse that races down here in California. I talked to my brother and he did play a few games down here before. They’ve got a great setup, the team’s doing very well, so everything was a positive. I was just a little hungry to play some hockey, so I thought I might as well come out and play some hockey and take one kick at the can and see where this takes me.”
Judging from his play on the opening shift, it will be providing some extra muscle up front for the Reign.
“He’s a pretty good presence,” Reign coach Jason Christie said of King, who is listed at 6-foot-3, 230 pounds. “He’s going out there and being a team guy and going through bodies. He’s a big man. If he uses his size, he uses his grit, he’s going to get opportunities.”
But for now, he’ll be satisfied with his opener, in which he had an assist in limited minutes in the Reign’s victory.
“It felt alright. Obviously, I haven’t played for a long time, so I was a little rusty,” King said. “I’ve just got to get in a little bit better game shape. Overall it felt OK I guess. I wasn’t expecting too, too much out of this first game.”
FAMILY TIES: D.J. King’s first extended exposure to Southern California came last spring, as the L.A. Kings made their way to the Stanley Cup.
He said Wednesday night that he spent “a couple of weeks” watching his brother play during the playoff run. And while both brothers will likely be busy with their teams in the coming weeks – the NHL with its compacted schedule due to the lockout, and the hectic ECHL schedule – D.J. said it would be nice being close to his brother.
“It will be nice being 40 minutes from Dwight,” D.J. said. “It’ll be nice getting to sit down and watch him, not just watch him, but visit him, so that’s cool.”
And part of the family ties was getting to see his little brother bring the Stanley Cup home last summer after the Kings’ victory.
“It was great. Everyone was so happy for him,” D.J. King said. “He worked hard to get where he was. Just to have that opportunity to bring the Cup back home, I was very happy for him. Not only for me but for the whole community back home in Meadow Lake.”
STREAK BUSTER: The Reign entered Wednesday night’s game on a season-long four-game winless streak (two losses, two overtime losses). After being outplayed in their two home games over the weekend, coach Christie knew it was time for a change.
“I gave them two days away from the rink after Sunday,” Christie said after the game. “Didn’t have them come in at all and just had a pregame skate this morning.”
Of course, this week’s schedule won’t help much. Wednesday was the first of four games in five nights this week for the Reign.
“We just needed a little rest. We were chasing I thought last weekend. It was a good team (effort tonight), and it was up and down there. And just battle through it.”
LINE CHANGES: The Reign and Kings are combining on a charity poker tournament tonight at San Manuel Indian Bingo and Casino. Some spots were still available for walk-up registration. Cost is $25, and several Kings alumni, along with Christie, former Reign coach Karl Taylor and President Justin Kemp will be among the players. … The Thunder’s Hunt is not well liked among the Reign’s fan base. But one fan showed Hunt some hospitality during his stint in the penalty box while serving his fighting major. The fan handed him a beer, according to a tweet from public address announcer Jeff Pope. A few calls down to the penalty box area were inconclusive, but Pope said after the game Hunt apparently finished the whole cup. Off-ice officials have said he did not drink the beer, according to the Reign.