BAKERSFIELD - Geoff Walker and Jeff Zatkoff made their first professional hockey games, and the first regular-season game in Ontario Reign history, a successful debut all around.
Walker assisted on the Reign's first goal and scored the eventual game-winner, and Zatkoff made 29 saves to help the Reign beat the Bakersfield Condors 2-1 to start the ECHL season Saturday.
"We're going to enjoy the first win," coach Karl Taylor said. "That's a great start to the season for the Kemp family. That's been a dream for them, to have this team for a long time. That was fun to be able to present Justin (Kemp, the team's executive vice president) with the game puck."
Claimed off waivers Tuesday from Phoenix, Walker was the final addition to the Reign's inaugural roster. He wasted little time setting up the first goal in team history on an early power play, grabbing a loose puck along the boards and driving on net from the left side, before passing to Andrew Martens.
The defenseman wound up for a slapshot from the right faceoff circle and put it past Condors goalie David McKee with 21 seconds left in the first period to tie the game at 1.
With 1:18 remaining in the second period, the Reign were 19 seconds into a power play when Walker gave his team its first lead at 2-1 on a wraparound goal.
"It's kind of a dream start for me, coming in and not really knowing what to expect my first game in pro," Walker said. "I just went out and worked hard, played within my game, tried to play within the system and it worked out for me."
If Walker gave the Reign their momentum in the first two periods, it was Zatkoff who held them up in the third. The 21-year-old started and saved 29 of 30 shots, none more impressive than during two third-period Bakersfield power plays, and the final 64 seconds when McKee was removed for an extra attacker.
After allowing a fluke goal on Bakersfield's first shot of the game, Zatkoff was perfect in a final period during which the Reign were outshot 13-3.
"The first pro shot in the history of his game hits a leg and goes in," Reign coach Karl Taylor said. "It took a real tough bounce and that's hockey, that happens. But he settled down and did a great job in the third to hold (Bakersfield) off."