Reign assistant coaches Chris Hajt and Craig Johnson were tasked with a more prominent role this season after John Wroblewski’s leave of absence.
The American Hockey League awards were handed out, and two crucial pieces of the Ontario Reign‘s success may have received the short end of the stick. With head coach John Wroblewski taking a leave of absence and not returning this season, assistants Chris Hajt and Craig Johnson assumed the duties. The two have done an excellent job, one perhaps deserving of an award.
The Louis A.R. Pieri Award is handed out to the AHL’s most outstanding coach. The 2021-22 winner was Stockton Heat coach Mitch Love. The Heat finished first place in the Pacific Division, six points ahead of the second-place Reign.
Hajt and Johnson stepped in for Wroblewski and handled a roster that was constantly in flux very well. While it’s common for AHL teams to deal with players in and out of their lineup, the Reign lost two of their top defensemen early in the season when Kale Clague was put on waivers, and Sean Durzi was called up to Los Angeles. The back-end also saw key pieces Jordan Spence, Jacob Moverare, and Austin Strand spend most of the second half of the season in the NHL.
There were also several injuries up front, most notably Alex Turcotte and Tyler Madden missing significant time down the stretch. Yet, Hajt and Johnson still managed a second-place finish and a team that scored the second-most goals in the league with 259.
The two assistant coaches had this team focused and overcame all of the roster shuffling. The Reign adjusted by adding pieces from the ECHL and college to fill out their roster to stay competitive. Were coaches Hajt and Johnson snubbed for the Louis A.R. Piere Award? One could certainly make the case.
Granted, coach Love and the Heat had a great season. The Heat did the job they were supposed to do and came out on top. Was that due to the Reign being short-handed and constantly making roster adjustments? Could the Reign have finished first if they had half of those recalled players back?
It certainly didn’t hurt Stockton that their NHL team in Calgary had the fewest man-games lost to injury this season:
NHL injury visualization. Man games lost to injuries and health protocols versus team wins. Bubble size represents cumulative quality of players lost for games (Lost-ps metric) https://t.co/lRequqYI1r pic.twitter.com/WC1SLpm6dR
— Man-Games Lost NHL (@ManGamesLostNHL) May 2, 2022
Even though the Reign were victims of many call-ups, coaches Haijt and Johnson could get the group they had to compete every night, play their brand of hockey, and finish with a +40 goal differential. They may not have won the award, but the two did an excellent job with the prospects on the roster.
The two have guided Ontario past the San Diego Gulls in the first round of the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs. This Reign team has complete buy-in to Chris Hajt and Craig Johnson and is primed for a lengthy playoff run.