BY MIKE GRIFFITH Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
As far as Condors coach Troy Mann is concerned, the Ontario Reign have set the bar in early ECHL Western Conference competition.
A 3-0 loss on Saturday night showed the Condors were not close to clearing that bar on Saturday and on Tuesday there were three news skaters at practice.
The Condors signed forward Michael Neal on Monday, who they picked up on waivers Thursday, and signed forward Ned Lukacevic and defenseman Blake Kessel on Tuesday. To make room, rookie forward Brett Macaulay and his brother, rookie defenseman, Scott Macaulay, were released.
"I think after the weekend, we kind of assessed our team," Mann said. "We thought we outplayed Colorado (a 2-1 shootout loss at home on Friday) and I thought we deserved the two points there.
"Then we went into Ontario and I think as a coaching staff, JO (general manager John Olver) included, I think they're a team that's going to be a force to reckon with in the conference and we need to get bigger and get a little more skill up front."
Mann said the Condors had been after Kessel all summer, but the third-year pro opted for Orlando. Kessel has played 63 games at the AHL and 54 in the ECHL. He led Trenton, N.J., defensemen in scoring last season with 41 points in 54 ECHL games.
"When Orlando couldn't fit him in, I knew we were the next team in line based on summer recruiting and he's a right-shot power play guy that we were looking for with a bit of experience," Mann said.
Neal (6-foot-2, 190 pounds) and Lukacevic (6-0, 201) provide a bit more size up front and both have shown the ability to put up points. Neal had 32 points in 46 games last year for Orlando. Lukacevic, who had been playing in Asia, averaged .73 points per game in 222 ECHL games.
"Luk just came out of the blue," Mann said. "He facebooked (assistant coach Ryan) Murphy. They played together in Manchester, and said he was coming back over.
"With (Joel) Broda up (with Oklahoma City in the AHL) not looking like he's coming back any time soon we thought we needed a little more skill set up front. His skill set says he's a really good player at this level and we'll see if he can do the job."
If nothing else, the changes early this week, as well as a between-period speech on Saturday, should serve notice that losing is unacceptable.
"I told the guys after the second period in Ontario -- I was really frank and up front -- we're not going to accept poor play, we're not going to accept losing and guys need to come to play," Mann said.
"If we have a chance to improve the team we're going to take every opportunity to do it. These three moves, time will tell. We don't want to be a revolving door. But this early in the season we have to find the right fit and the right players."