Would Barracuda Head Coach Roy Sommer tie Fred "Bun" Cook's AHL record for coaching wins at 636 tonight...at the expense of former Maine Mariners teammate Mike Stothers?
Sommer's quest had a promising if painful beginning, as Joakim Ryan was boarded by Adrian Kempe, resulting in a five-minute San Jose major power play.
Kempe thought it was a bang-bang play. "We were skating next to each other and I tried to hit him and he kind of turned around a little bit." He noted that roughly the same thing had happened to him recently. "In the World Juniors...it was a little bit of my own fault that I turned around just before I got hit...I haven’t seen the [Ryan] hit after so I can’t tell any more about it."
Ryan would bounce back quickly, but the Barracuda had little bite for most of these five minutes. That is until Nikolay Goldobin, off to the side, lured Peter Budaj over to him before firing a pass across the front of the crease and through Jeff Schultz for a twine-twisting Karl Stollery one-timer.
Because of this penalty-marred opening frame, it took about 13 minutes for either team to register an even strength scoring chance. But then, sprung by a defensive zone faceoff victory, Jeremy Langlois dished it on the rush by Zach Leslie for a Trevor Parkes low slot tip which eluded Budaj. Captain Vincent LoVerde owned up, "Parkes got inside positioning on me...I can't compete like that. The goal's completely on me."
Except for this uncharacteristically loose defense, it was actually a fairly tightly-contested period at evens, as San Jose only had a 2-1 ES chances edge. Would the Reign roll out a more rampant offensive attack?
Not yet. A couple minutes into the middle frame, after a punchless Ontario power play—this would be an ongoing theme, as they started off 0-6 in this category—Ryan Carpenter jumped out of the box and into a 2-on-1 with Michael Haley. Taking advantage of Sean Backman as the man back, Carpenter floated it through the opposing forward and onto Haley, who had enough time to pull, drag, and fire, but ever the wet blanket was Budaj.
The home team remained together defensively, but it took a little more than half the game before they were blessed by a ray of scoring hope. It was stained glass cathedral-worthy though, as Scott Timmins was flogged with an interference and an unsportsmanlike. Then Haley was punished for a roughing in the midst of the Timmins double-minor. This meant a full, two-minute 5v3 for Ontario.
But that was all the grace to be extended to the Reign, as both Kempe and Nic Dowd rang posts.
Much like the first, 5v5 play was low-event and muted; through 40, both teams were tied with just four ES chances apiece. In any situation, Stothers wanted more offense, "Our defensemen need to shoot the puck more, especially when we get a power play.
"For the most part, if you’ve got a power play, you want to get some shots to the net early and get them kind of rattled or discombobulated. I don’t know how to spell discombobulated, so you guys put that one together. But that’s what you want to do. You want to get them moving."
And just two minutes into the third, Stothers's wish was granted (at evens), as a LoVerde point shot sailed through Barclay Goodrow and a four-car pile-up in front—Jordan Samuels-Thomas, Derek Army, Gus Young, and Langlois—untouched by all, including, most importantly, Aaron Dell.
Ontario kept pressing. About halfway into the period, Kempe-Andrew Crescenzi-Valentin Zykov rented the puck for a down low party. Zykov zipped it to Kempe for a high slot one-timer, and in the resulting chaos, which included a crashing LoVerde, both captain and Crescenzi raised their arms. But the ref ruled that the puck never crossed the line.
This isn't to say that San Jose sunk without a fight. Shortly thereafter, Daniel Doremus grazed the post off a faceoff win. In fact, in a more wide-open third period, both teams tied for six ES chances apiece.
But with about six minutes left, Schultz was sent off for a high sticking with some blood on the side. This would seem to spell a double-minor death knell for this spirited Reign retort.
Even a man short though, it was Ontario that controlled play, punctuated by a Ryan Horvat left dot bid which squirted to Jordan Samuels-Thomas on the open side. But the Barracuda dodged a bullet when Dell caught it.
With about 30 seconds left on the Schultz infraction and three minutes to go in the game, Julius Bergman was flagged for interference. The Reign would enjoy a minute and a half power play; with Budaj pulled, this would mean another long two-man advantage.
This time, Ontario made no mistake. Kempe lined a brilliant diagonal pass from the half wall to an unmarked Backman.
Kempe remarked, "I saw he was open for a couple seconds, but I waited a little bit before I passed." For his part, Backman did his best to slip San Jose's attention. "Kempe’s a world-class player, so you don’t really need to tap your stick or yell for him to see you. Was trying to be as quiet as I could over there, luckily it worked out."
Then, on the very first shift of overtime, it was LoVerde who would make up for an earlier mistake, as he scooped up a Young turnover and sprung Dowd on a 3-on-1. The smoking-hot centerman blazed a mid-slot wrister by Dell for his sixth goal in seven games, leaving Sommer oh so cold.
"We’ve been [telling Nic] to shoot more...He’s got a great shot. He picks corners all the time," observed Stothers. "I actually think that their goalie was kind of leaning...anticipating a pass."
As for his ex-teammate, Stothers had exchanged pleasantries with Sommer in the morning: "We were kidding around...I know he's going to get it...I just [hoped] not against us." And it wasn't.