The Edmonton Oilers boast a pretty deep prospect pool as Sheng noted in his preview. With the likes of Darnell Nurse and Leon Draisaitl, the Bakersfield Condors always pose an offensive threat. They went quietly two weeks ago, but Friday they came into Citizen's Business Bank Arena looking for revenge.
Being that this was an historical night and Ontario's home opener, the coaching staff and players were all introduced before they revealed that Kingston (the snow leopard mascot from the early '90s) is going to be the new Bailey of Ontario - that is, he's their new mascot, replacing the old dragon and knight of the ECHL-Reign.
Kingston sighting pic.twitter.com/c7mDOSfpQE— Robyn (@robyn_jftc) October 24, 2015
Luc Robitaille also came out for the ceremonial puck drop.
And then the championship banner was unveiled.
@MonarchsHockey Calder Cup banner from last season's championship pic.twitter.com/30RlUAl1XA— Robyn (@robyn_jftc) October 24, 2015
Following all the hubbub, the game was able to get underway.
Peter Budaj had another solid night in goal for the Reign, even if his stat line will read four goals against. Probably the only one you can really blame him for was Andrew Miller 's unassisted breakaway tally in the first period. Budaj appeared to have gotten a piece of it, but not quite enough as the puck found its way behind the 33-year-old netminder.
Ontario's team defense, on the other hand, struggled mightily through the majority of two periods. Despite outshooting the Condors 12-10 in the first frame, sloppiness in their own zone meant the Reign were down by two going into the first intermission.
According to Michael Mersch, who had himself another solid night, the mood in the room wasn't negative. "You just try and stay even keel," he said. The veteran leadership also helped make sure everyone wasn't getting too ahead of themselves. "We just told each other we were going to have to be able to do it the right way, we weren't going cheat, get shots on net, get pucks in. It's what we had done in the first three games that we had success..."
In the second period, the Reign seemed to be having trouble with their breakout and when they did gain the zone, there wasn't much going offensively. However, things started to turn midway through the period. Breakouts were cleaner and chances-for were going up. They were still if-y in their own zone at times, but offensively they were much better. Shortly before Mersch finally broke through for Ontario, he and Jonny Brodzinski had teamed up for a very pretty passing play but couldn't quite convert on it.
Then, with about five and a half minutes to go, Mersch struck. After a failed wrap around attempt popped back out to him, the former Badger wasted no time in putting the puck past Scrivens, who had a double screen in front of him. That was a huge goal that gave the Reign a ton of life and six seconds later, Kris Newbury joined the fun.
Following a faceoff win at center ice, the Reign gained the zone and Sean Backman sent a slick pass across the crease to Newbury, who deflected it in.
But the Reign weren't done there. Less than a minute later, Valentin Zykov scored as well. Andrew Crescenzi slipped behind Bako's defense, with Nurse getting caught out position while his partner didn't pick up Zykov until it was too late. The two-on-one was virtually a two-on-zero and there was little chance for Ben Scrivens to stop that.
In exactly 56 seconds, the Reign had managed to entirely erase a 3-0 deficit and tie the game. Shortly thereafter the Reign drew a power play as David Musil went off for tripping.
All the momentum was on Ontario's side and they took full advantage. Kevin Gravel got his first goal of the season when he unleashed a nasty slapshot off a lovely feed from Backman. A lot of credit goes to Justin Auger, as well, who won a board battle behind the net.
The buzzer sounded shortly thereafter with the Reign still buzzing around the Condors' net. Postgame, Head Coach Mike Stothers said the period ended too soon.
"The intermission came at a bad a time as far I'm concerned," he said, "because it would've been nice to keep that momentum going."
The first five minutes of the third period began with Ontario firmly in clock management mode as they nursed a 4-3 lead. Breakouts were careful and passes within their own zone were even more careful, with players unwilling to risk a turnover and shots on goal were taken only with a clear opportunity. The team started to settle down after that and Zykov gave the Reign a bit of breathing room about seven minutes into the final frame.
Mersch and Nic Dowd cycled the zone and forced a turnover. Zykov tapped his stick on the ice for a pass and went down on one knee, sniping the puck over Scrivens's right shoulder.
It was almost all Ontario after that. There was a hairy moment when Adrian Kempe took an offensive zone penalty for tripping, but the PK was terrific, allowing only one shot on goal within the final 10 seconds of the penalty. However, with less than five minutes remaining in the game, things got interesting.
Bakersfield never gave up and was rewarded for their hard work when Jujhar Khaira, parked in front of the net, got a rebound and put it up top shelf. The Reign had ceded quite a bit of zone time to the Condors prior to that, though no shots had made it through. Finally, Bogdan Yakimov 's shot from outside the circles made it through and Khaira chipped it home for his first goal of the season.
The goal didn't seem to faze the Reign at all, though. They spent much of the next couple minutes in clock management mode (again) and their final 1:20 was incredible. Ontario purposely refrained from shooting on net, choosing instead, to cycle in the offensive zone and prevent Scrivens from being pulled in favor of an extra attacker. With about 20 seconds left, the Condors were able to get the puck out while the Reign made a shift change. But again, Bakersfield was unable to generate much. Despite a late icing and a defensive zone faceoff with 3.9 seconds remaining, Ontario managed to hang on and keep their win streak alive.
Stothers wasn't happy with his team's effort in the first period. He felt that they weren't moving their feet enough and were guilty of standing around. Stothers credited better skating as what led to the turnaround.
As for having participated in three home openers, Stothers is just glad to get the season underway.
Ontario is back in action tonight as they take on the San Jose Barracuda (San Jose Sharks). Follow Sheng Peng for all your updates from the Inland Empire.