All quotes courtesy Ontario Reign Insider.
After a New Year's Eve letdown, would the Reign ring in 2016 in style?
December 6th, 2015. Not quite a day that will live in infamy, but it was the last time Ontario scored on the man advantage. Their competition? These same Checkers, but in Charlotte. Seven games and 30 power plays later, would the Reign keep runnin' on empty?
Given a trio of PPs 13 minutes in, the home team just couldn't spark any consistent pressure. Their finest opportunity was probably a miss, which tells you about this man-up mess: It was a Kevin Gravel offer from the slot with Rasmus Tirronen down and out.
Not surprisingly, Jonny Brodzinski noticed. "The first three power plays we had we didn’t score on, so, I mean, that was huge. They scored on their first one." It was Ryan Murphy, who picked a corner by Peter Budaj's glove.
Perhaps it was what the Reign deserved, perhaps not. With about two minutes remaining in the opening frame, the hosts boasted a 15-4 shots advantage and had limited the Checkers to zero even strength scoring chances.
But as we know, it just takes one crummy shift to change the game. A perhaps skipping puck eluded Gravel's clear at his blueline, Brock McGinn took Joel Lowry on the wall on a 50-50, and in the ensuing scramble in front of their netminder, Kevin Raine, Paul Bissonnette, and Lowry couldn't tie up Sergey Tolchinsky's quick stick. So despite a gallant defensive effort, Ontario found itself down two after one.
Valentin Zykov looked to single-handedly reverse his team's fortunes to kick off the second, as he steamed by Kevin Lowe's son Keegan one on one for a bid that Tirronen fought off. The Reign continued to own the puck, as they cut off Charlotte breakout after breakout, and about halfway into the middle frame, their efforts were rewarded by a long Jeff Schultz shot which pinballed through Tirronen. Even Sarge had a laugh about this oddity, and his teammates kept skating in good spirits—now 13 minutes into the period, Ontario had granted one miserly shot against. It was just a matter of time, right?
In the first period, it was one shift. In the second, it was one play. After an Andrew Crescenzi faceoff win, Zac Leslie mishandled the puck on his blueline, and Justin Shugg was off to the races. The Checkers capitalized on Budaj's glove once again in this, their only ES chance of the period.
But finally, with just 41 seconds left in the middle frame, Nic Dowd parted the Red Sea by firing a power play bullet from the top of the left circle, the 6'7" Justin Auger providing a screen. Down only a goal now and controlling play, the Reign didn't have to cross a desert to tie it up.
By the way, Dowd had a monster game: Along with his tally, he rifled nine shots and won an estimated 17 of 25 faceoffs.
But I digress. Like his fellow rookie right winger did in the previous period, early into the third, Brodzinski almost carried his teammates home. Slipping by Murphy and McGinn to claim a loose puck in the slot, the snakebit sniper lifted a gorgeous backhand...off the crossbar.
Shortly thereafter behind that same net, Ontario newcomer Derek Army forechecked the puck out of Chris Chelios's son Jake and Mike Cornell, jumping out for a stuff that might have surprised Tirronen. The puck indeed crossed the line, but the whistle had already blown.
About Army: He was signed from the ECHL because Kris Newbury was scratched with an undisclosed injury. Just the 24-year-old's fifth AHL game, he played heavy minutes between regular scoring line wingers Zykov and Sean Backman, impressing with his quickness on the puck throughout the night. He also notched his first-ever AHL point, as it was his faceoff win that resulted in the Schultz laugher.
Coach Mike Stothers was very complimentary of his newest recruit, "That’s a tough situation. He gets up this morning, he flies and gets here at noon...He made some plays. He didn’t look out of place there. I’m sure he was a little bit nervous and probably a little overwhelmed. So, hopefully tomorrow he’ll be more comfortable and provide us with even more."
The news, however, looks grim for Newbury. "It’s not the foot," noted Stothers, as the gritty pivot had broken his left foot earlier in the year. "It’s something new and I’m not trying to evade the question, but we’re not sure what it is or what’s going on yet. It could be quite a while." With Adrian Kempe gone for a while as well, and Michael Mersch perhaps for good, the Reign sorely need a forward like the unheralded Army to step up.
Anyway, Ontario continued to step up its efforts on both ends of the ice. More than 16 minutes into the third, the Checkers had recorded just two shots the whole period. In that span of time, the Reign had eight ES scoring chances—including, with three minutes left, back-to-back Zykov jams from behind the net, where the Russian had once again shaken off Lowe.
But for the hosts, it was not to be the mostest tonight. Despite outshooting the visitors 37-14 and outchancing them at evens 13-3, Ontario had to suffer the indignity of watching another long empty netter dash their hopes, this time off the stick of T.J. Hensick. Darryl Sutter's nephew Brody assisted.
For a Reign squad which had played a truly marvelous game, their only solace would be the immediate opportunity to avenge themselves, as they square off with the Checkers once again on Sunday. A chipper Stothers echoed this sentiment, "I’m excited for us to play tomorrow at 3 o’clock and get right back at it.
"I’ll never complain if we don’t win the game or we fall a little bit short so long’s the effort’s there and we had energy, we had effort, we had chances, we had a physical presence, we skated. We did a lot of things a lot better than we did the other night."
See full video highlights here courtesy AHL Live.