It was Star Wars Day at CBBA, and the Ontario Reign dueled a San Jose Barracuda squad getting off the mat after a 5-0 pummeling yesterday afternoon.
The Barracuda swam ahead early, as Daniel Doremus swiped an errant Nic Dowd pass that had been earmarked for a vacated Reign blueline. Closing in all alone, Doremus bobbled the puck at the last moment, but Peter Budaj was still forced to use his pad. Shortly thereafter, John McCarthy backhanded a rebound off a Gus Young point shot, which Budaj sucked up.
Deep into the opening frame, Ontario's attack still couldn't get on track. Coach Mike Stothers had already plugged in the line blender, as Nic Dowd saw time with at least six wingers in about ten minutes. Dowd noted, "Stuttsy is obviously really particular on faceoffs in the D-zone. I think Joel Lowry, it was his first game back in a while. It's a lot of onus to chuck him out there on a D-zone draw."
Indeed, the big pivot did take seven of the game's first 11 draws, as he borrowed a scratched Ryan Horvat's place on the fourth line. You may recall that Horvat took two OZ penalties last night which apparently drew Stothers's ire.
Perhaps the Reign's best chance came off Nick Ebert's blade, as he crept near the slot after a Dowd faceoff win and snapped the puck at Aaron Dell.
While shots and chances were fairly even as time winded down, San Jose had clearly enjoyed the more dangerous opportunities, and they capped off their work with just 30 seconds to go, as Trevor Parkes tipped a Mark Cundari bid past Budaj. Both Kurtis MacDermid and Jordan Samuels-Thomas were a little guilty of watching the puck at the point too closely, as Parkes was unmarked in front.
While both teams were enduring the backend of back- to-backs, it was Ontario that appeared a step behind. It was more of the same to kick off the second period, as Ben Smith eluded Adrian Kempe's attention in front, deflecting a Mirco Mueller blast into Budaj's pad.
As it went earlier, the Barracuda weren't dominating, but they held the Reign at bay, consistently heading off zone exits with a hungry forecheck. Kevin Gravel noticed, "The thing that San Jose does really well is stay over the top of our forwards in the neutral zone and defensive zone...The onus is on our defensemen to make a couple of plays." Speaking of, an attempted Jeff Schultz breakout to an open Curt Gogol clanked off the forward's skate with about five minutes left in the period, perhaps emblematic of Ontario's struggles.
Cundari, however, was in a giving spirit as he tripped Dowd late. Once again, however, even with this extra ice, the Reign just couldn't earn the space for a reasonable scoring bid. This was the kind of game, where inches were so precious, that Ontario sorely missed the power and skill of Michael Mersch. Who would step up?
Speaking of stepping up—or going up—Ebert was the squad leader in shots with three after the middle frame...which, as hard a shot as the blueliner has, probably wasn't ideal.
The third period offered more of the same: San Jose achieved what Ontario had done so often with a lead this season, cutting off zone exit after exit and clogging the NZ. Stothers both praised his opponent and chided his team, "They've always forechecked us hard...not so much on the physical part. They get in on you in a hurry.
"Some [breakouts], we just didn't execute really well...the forwards weren't quite in the right position to receive it properly. Some of that I attribute to taking poor routes to handle the puck clean."
With about eight minutes on the clock, the Reign also suffered what appeared momentarily to be more alarming news than a punchless follow-up to a back-to-back: Dowd got tangled with Smith near the blueline and fell awkwardly. After the game, the Ontario linchpin was indeed wearing an ice pack over his right elbow, but he disclosed a different reason for his injury, "I probably just fell because I fell.
"Aww Gravs...one timer right at my elbow. It kept flaring up throughout the game at random points. I'm just glad I didn't have to take a lot of faceoffs after it happened. But nothing too serious."
It was a sigh of relief for a Reign squad who received nary a breather—or ES scoring chance—from a relentless San Jose defensive effort. But as the Barracuda closed in on a shutout, Budaj was pulled, and Justin Auger tipped in a Sean Backman point shot with just over a minute to go. Mueller had the opportunity to clear, but his backhand toss to the boards got by a teammate's stick and to a primed Backman. Auger will take it, "It just happened to hit my stick. I had my stick at the right place at the right time...We knew that was going to be how we were going to score. We weren't going to get a pretty goal."
Much like their parent club, Ontario found its legs 3v3, as Backman continued his assault on the net. Then, Dowd completed a soft backhand dish to Gravel at the San Jose blueline, and the big defender cut by Bryan Lerg off the left wing, sneaking the OT winner through Dell's five-hole. It was another somewhat fortuitous goal for the hard-charging Reign, as Gravel admitted afterwards, "To be honest, I didn't really see anything open. I just threw it on net. I was originally looking for Brodzinski backdoor, but I kind of got a little too in tight.
"I don't know how it went in. I didn't even know it went in. I rounded the net and saw the puck in the back of the net."
Tonight, Ontario's hyperdrive fired just in time for a pair of fortunate points.
Full game highlights courtesy ieProSports.