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Reign Recap #32: 3-in-3 Opener Almost a Breeze for Ontario

AHL All-Star Michael Mersch makes it back for potential Ontario-San Diego powder keg

David Sheehan

$2 beer night and Reign-Gulls in their first tilt since Kurtis MacDermid ended Matt Bailey's season...what could go wrong? For Ontario though, all was right in the world, as they just welcomed Michael Mersch back into the fold.

[Box Score]

And lo and behold!

Shortly thereafter, an Antoine Laganiere delay of game and Stu Bickel closing hand on puck gifted the home team with over a minute and a half on a 5v3, but the Reign managed zero set-up time, as they lost puck battles, failed to gain the zone as a unit, and once, most bafflingly, attempted a dump-in. Frankly, it was one of the worst two-man advantages that I've ever seen.

That said, Ontario was skating with distinct purpose otherwisehalfway into the period, they held a 4-1 even strength scoring chances edge.

Derek Army would be the one to redeem his unit's power play. With just 27 seconds left in the opening frame, a clever Vincent LoVerde shot-pass was deflected by Justin Auger, and Army tapped it in past a harried Anton Khudobin. It was the PTO surprise's first-ever AHL goal, and Nic Dowd made sure to grab the puck. "It’s right in my stall," said a beaming Army. "My grandfather, I give all my pucks to him and my dad...They’ll be excited."

After 20, the Reign were up 14-5 shots, and making himself right at home was Mersch, who already had five.

Ontario kept rolling over San Diego to kick off the middle frame. A Joe Piskula not-so-hard around eluded Bryan Moore on the half wall, and LoVerde fired a point shot, which was deflected in by a mystery Gull.

This was followed by a Adrian Kempe and Jonny Brodzinski 2-on-0. Michael Sgarbossa, perhaps troubled by a long Kevin Gravel stick, chose to drop it back upon gaining the zone. The problem? A trailing Andrew O'Brien was flummoxed, overskating  the puck, which set up a Gravel lead pass. Kempe served Brodzinski, but the 'Dhobin wall stood tall.

Almost halfway through, the Reign had forged ahead 8-1 shots in the second and 22-6 for the game. Coach Mike Stothers was impressed, "I thought we utilized some of our best assets which is skating and puck possession."

The Gulls, of course, pushed back, as Brian McGrattan himself shook Dowd from the corner for a stuff opportunity with about six to go, drawing a hold along the way. However, the star pivot enjoyed some sweet revenge on McGrattan straight out of the box. Jeff Schultz found an unmarked Brodzinski in the corner, who fed Dowdfloating in a soft spot between McGrattan and Piskula in the slotfor a quick deflection through Khudobin.

That was pretty much all she wrote for a depleted San Diego. Jason Lewis noted that even down three with about 15 minutes left in the game, Dallas Eakins continued to hang four back in the neutral zone, as demonstrated when Jordan Samuels-Thomas beat a sole forechecker on this breakout:

If that isn't enough, the visitors had zero ES chances in the period.

Talking about Samuels-Thomas, he made a personal buffet out of garbage time. With about 11 to go, JST deflected a Derek Forbort half-wall bid past Khudobin. Then with just two minutes left, Vincent LoVerde stepped up on a listless Ritchie-Robbie Czarnik puck exchange at the Reign blueline, springing Backman and JST for a shorthanded 2-on-1. Ontario's assistant captain fired, rebound, and guess who put away the trash?

All in all, it was a handsome team effort tonight after a Condors 4-0 wipeout last Saturday. "We had, what, four days of practice this week to...get ready and prepare for this upcoming weekend," noted LoVerde, after this opening leg of a Friday-Saturday-Sunday three-in-three gauntlet. "We had a sour taste in the mouth from the Bakersfield game."

Stothers added, "For once, we were disciplined, and we kept them to four power plays...I’d like to see that against everybody. Four is the maximum penalties you want to take."

Speaking of four, the hosts snapped a very personal four-game Gulls losing streak. But surprisingly, there was a lack of fisticuffs in this first Ontario-San Diego clash since the MacDermid incident—just a lone fight between, of all people, Derek Forbort and Nick RitchiePaul Bissonnette quipped, "Yeah, apparently their bus got here really late, and it was just kind of a weird start for them. That’s what a few of their guys were saying on the ice.

"I just think it kind of threw them off, and we got the jump on them early. I don’t know if that had a factor, a few of them mentioned it, that’s why I just say they were thrown off. It seemed like it upset them and rattled them enough to distract them."

See full highlights here, courtesy of AHL Live.