Watching from his comfy perch at the top of the arena, Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi liked what he saw.
"This is what we need to do to be successful as an organization," Lombardi said.
Too bad he wasn't watching the Kings.
Instead, Lombardi and members of his coaching and scouting staff were watching the Kings' thriving new East Coast Hockey League affiliate, the Ontario Reign, silence the Stockton Thunder in Game 6 of the first round of the Kelly Cup playoffs Tuesday.
Six months ago, the Reign took the ice at the AEG-operated Citizens Business Bank Arena not knowing if it could secure a foothold in a community that has witnessed more foreclosures and short sales than forechecking and short-handed goals. But the Reign quickly won fans' hearts -- and the Pacific division.
"The support we've had has been outstanding," said Karl Taylor, the Reign's coach and director of hockey operations. "Having the community accept us has helped us sell our product, which is critical in our first year of existence."
Ontario's inaugural season, however, ended Wednesday with a 5-4 loss to the Thunder in Game 7. But that shouldn't hurt the AEG majority-owned franchise in its push to win over the Inland Empire. Having three of the Kings' top prospects doesn't hurt either.
Starting goalie Jeff Zatkoff and winger Bud Holloway, both selected by the Kings in the third round of the 2006 NHL draft, are among the fan favorites. The best prospect here, though, is 19-year-old defenseman Colten Teubert, a first-round pick in 2008 (13th overall) whose dark blond hair and loopy grin is reminiscent of the Kings' Jack Johnson.
"The town has really embraced them," said fan Mike Brewster, 32, of Fontana, who named the team by winning an online contest. "I have season tickets to both the Kings and the Reign . . . and I hate to say it, but this place has been way louder than Staples Center has been this season."
Teubert noticed the same thing. "The fans here are a lot louder than in Regina," he said of the crazy-about-hockey Saskatchewan town where his previous team, the Regina Pats of the Western Hockey League, is based. "I really didn't think hockey would be a big hit here, but obviously, the fans are very into the game."
Despite the recession, the Reign sold an average of 5,698 tickets a game across the 72-game season and the playoffs -- second most in the ECHL.
But because three of the ECHL's 21 franchises have suspended or ceased operations this season, Taylor wants to make sure the Reign last once the "honeymoon is over." So parking is free and tickets can be bought for as low as $10 (though concessions are roughly the same as at Staples). He says community outreach has been key.
"The players go to postgame parties at restaurants and the fans have my e-mail address," Taylor said. "The season-ticket holders pay our salaries, so if we don't have them, we don't have a team."
The Reign operates at a weekly salary cap of $11,200 (the average player receives about $500 to $550 a week), and a portion of the salary is generated through ticket sales. That is a far cry from the parent Kings, who are about $13 million under the NHL's annual salary cap of $56.7 million.
Lombardi is upbeat about the Reign's future, citing plans for the AEG-owned Kings to play an exhibition game next season at Citizens arena, site of the 2010 ECHL All-Star game.
"It's all a part of creating a fellowship from the grass-roots level," he said. "The idea is that someone who sees a guy like Colten Teubert or Bud Holloway playing here might follow him and someday have a stronger attraction to the Kings."
Lombardi and his staff also like the fact that Ontario is within easy driving distance. The Kings' former ECHL affiliate was in Pennsylvania.
"We've had more coaches and scouts watch Ontario Reign games this year than we did over a three-year span in Reading," Kings goaltending coach Bill Ranford said.
In Brewster's mind, there is another plus: The chance to interact with future NHL players can be a unifying force.
"This is probably the only place where you'll see Kings and Ducks fans sitting together and cheering for the same team," he said.