Adrian Kempe deserved first star honors on the night for more than just his hat trick. He was solid defensively and used his speed to his advantage while showing flashes of high end finishing ability to go with his superior skating skills.
Right from puck drop, it was clear that the Ontario Reign were determined to win this game. It took about 10 seconds for the Reign to register their first shot on goal. It wasn't a difficult shot to stop, but as with the Kings' system, it's not about the first attempt. It's about the rest.
The Reign attacked the zone, cycling the puck and outworking the Gulls down in the offensive zone. It wasn't long before Ontario drew a hooking penalty. The subsequent power play fizzled out, but the Reign didn't stop attacking. Michael Mersch had a shot that leaked through John Gibson but skipped just wide of the goal mouth while Vincent LoVerde had a shot that beat Gibson but couldn't beat the post. Ontario kept at it and eventually Mersch got his own rebound and scored to put the Reign up 1-0, nearly nine minutes into the first period.
San Diego regrouped and drew a penalty of their own a minute later as Sean Backman went off for cross-checking. Peter Budaj was sharp for the Reign as usual, but did have one moment of doubt. During a scrum in the crease, he lost the puck and laid flat, thinking he had managed to cover it up. Presumably the referee thought Budaj had control of the puck and blew the play dead right before a Gulls player managed to find the puck loose in the crease and put it home. However, there was no goal because the play already been blown dead.
There was a moment late in the first when Justin Auger had a good stick lift to prevent San Diego from getting another whack at the puck in Ontario's defensive zone, which was followed by a good offensive chance at the other end. Valentin Zykov picked up a rebound and shot the puck while Gibson was down but hit the crossbar. He was maybe an inch from scoring a goal. It was also Ontario's third post of the night.
Despite a Ryan Horvat cross-checking penalty at the tail end of the period, the first ended with Ontario leading in shots 10-7 and 1-0 on the scoreboard.
All-in-all, it was a pretty evenly played period with Ontario being somewhat fortunate to come out of it leading instead of tied.
Zykov didn't get a star, but he was working hard all night. Early into the second frame, the Reign forced a turnover and Zykov was off to the races. Shane O'Brien had no choice but to hook him in order to slow him down. The young Russian managed to shrug off the San Diego defenseman, but sent his shot high over the crossbar. Zykov certainly gets (brownie) points for effort, even if it didn't show up on the scoresheet.
On the power play, Kempe and Andrew Crescenzi had a nice give-and-go to enter the zone. Crescenzi passed back to Kempe, who scored shortside. There was just enough daylight between Gibson's arm and the post for Kempe to squeeze the puck through. LoVerde got his second point of the night with the second assist on the play.
LoVerde was another player who didn't get a "star," but was a force to be reckoned with. He was creating turnovers, using speed to gain the zone and overall had excellent puck protection. He was definitely one of the best players on the ice all night.
Following a huge hit in the defensive zone, Backman went to the box for tripping.
The saying goes that your best penalty killer has to be your goalie and Budaj was great. He put rebounds into the corners and had a fantastic glove save to keep the game close.
As soon as Backman's penalty had expired, he came racing out of the box and nearly scored, but Gibson blocked it away into the corner. Shortly thereafter, Backman again nearly scored, but missed. Nick Ebert grabbed the rebound and his attempt went wide. Gibson was down and out and none of the Gulls picked up Kempe, who put the puck in the empty net.
San Diego immediately pressured the other way, but good back checking snuffed out any real threats.
A couple of minutes later, Brian McGrattan got the Gulls on the board when he deflected Jaycob Megna 's shot from the blue line between Budaj's legs to the Reign's lead to two. It came following some good zone time and cycling for San Diego. It's maybe a goal Budaj would like back, but credit the Gulls for getting bodies to the front.
The Reign pride themselves on not getting too high or too low and it worked in their favor. Tim Jackman hauled down Kevin Gravel on a breakaway and put Ontario back on the power play, which was already one-for-two on the evening.
LoVerde passed to Jeff Schultz , whose shot from the blue line (I'm assuming was intended for Crescenzi) was blocked by a Gulls defender. The puck bounced to Kempe, who put it past a helpless Gibson and capped off the young Swede's first professional hat trick. (He mentioned postgame that he'd had a couple in junior, but none professionally.)
Sadly, no one threw hats on the ice for Kempe. After they announced the goal, three hats made their way down from the 200s, but that was it.
Later, Paul Bissonnette said he threw them back because there weren't even enough to put in Kempe's stall.
Prospect netminder Patrik Bartosak was not pleased with the fan reaction and he took to twitter to chirp the crowd.
At one point, the Gulls were outshooting the Reign 16-15 with only a single goal to show for it. In fact, the second period was the only period in which San Diego outshot Ontario (12-9), as they were only credited for two shots on goal in the last period.
The second period ended with another Horvat penalty, this time for interference. Stothers did something interesting with his penalty killing units. He used three forward combinations and four total defensemen, all the while keeping shifts very short, about 30 seconds each. Mersch and Nic Dowd started the kill with the faceoff, got the puck out of danger and then changed. They were replaced by Backman and Auger and shortly after that, a full scale change occurred with Jordan Samuels-Thomas and Crescenzi coming on with Schultz and LoVerde. It's a very smart time management move by a savvy coach whose team was ahead and who knew that he likely had some tired players.
Ontario killed the remaining 34 seconds of Horvat's penalty in the final period with nary a threat from the Gulls. Bissonnette and McGrattan dropped the gloves a minute or so later.
After the game, Bissonnette explained that McGrattan had been "running around a bit in the second." He and McGrattan agreed to a kerfuffle at the most convenient time, which happened to be at the start of the third.
"Typically when you’re in a shift you don’t fight at the end of it because you don’t want to be tired," He said. "So he just basically was like whenever we’re both out there and have energy – that ended up being the third period. We were kind of in a lull there and he had scored at the end of the second so it was just a good time."
Instead of relieving tension, the fight seemed to give a green light for the chippiness to continue.
Ontario didn't go into a defensive shell and continued to generate multiple opportunities. Dowd had a great chance gloved down by Gibson, with a little more than 10 minutes to go in the game. Kurtis MacDermid and Stu Bickel exchanged punches after LoVerde, Backman and Joe Piskula had a disagreement in front of the Gulls' bench.
OK, there’s the rivalry between these two teams. Pushing, shoving and full penalty boxes. 8 minutes to go. Deadline looming.— Bill Norris (@OntReignInsider) November 6, 2015
The game ended without further incident from either team and the Reign went on to snap a three-game losing skid while also snapping the Gulls' three-game winning streak.