The Ontario Reign returned to the Vault for the first time in over three weeks, stepping out in adorable Humane Society of San Bernardino Valley paw print jerseys. Would bitter rival San Diego Gulls be overwhelmed by the cuteness?
Perhaps not—it was frisky from the drop of the puck, as shades of Balboa VS Drago, 5'11" Kris Newbury tried to chop down 6'3" Shane O'Brien in a spirited brawl:
It was San Diego, however, that would draw first blood. Chris Mueller beat Nic Dowd clean at the dot, and almost-point-per-game rookie defender Brandon Montour rifled it from the backend. You be the judge as to whether or not it was tipped. At first, Andrew O'Brien got the goal, then back to Montour, and finally, Nic Kerdiles. Who knows, perhaps they'll end up crediting Paul Kariya with the deflection.
Being down a score withstanding, the hosts actually enjoyed a strong start, as halfway into the opening frame, they were up 10-3 shots and 3-1 even strength scoring chances. Ontario's best early opportunity actually came at the end of their first penalty kill, as Brett Sutter did rock and Jonny Brodzinski went hard place on a hapless Michael Sgarbossa at the point. Pouncing on the turnover, a breaking, deking Brodzinski went high over Anton Khudobin's glove.
Then with about six minutes to go, Sean Backman took advantage of Jaycob Megna stepping up on him in the neutral zone and Brian McGrattan letting Dowd blow by up the middle—the crafty winger sprung his center and Michael Mersch for a 2-on-1, but Dowd also missed high glove.
Just a couple minutes later, Shea Theodore threw it up the middle onto the forechecking Dowd's blade...and again, the playmaking pivot missed high glove. Missing the net in makeable moments was indeed a tragic theme tonight for the home team. Mike Stothers certainly noticed, "Their goalie was standing up and we were ringing it over his head and off the glass...
"Tonight, I think were concentrating far too much on being precise."
Would the Gulls swoop in on the Reign's largesse? Ondrej Kase sure tried, as the speedy winger beat Jeff Schultz and Vinny LoVerde up the ice to claim a beautiful Sgarbossa breakout, earning a penalty shot with 1:19 on the clock. But Peter Budaj shot out the right pad to keep his boys close.
It was a busy end of the period, as Newbury was then tossed for Abuse of Officials with just under a minute to go. The gritty center grit his teeth after the game, "He gave me a 10, and then I probably said something I shouldn’t have said after that. But at that point, I was already frustrated. The guy headlocks Kempe and I come headlock him and then all of a sudden, I’m automatically in the penalty box." If you're scoring at home, that was 27 PIMs for the vet in just 19 minutes.
Seconds later, Dowd and Mersch embarrassed their potential future Freeway Faceoff rivals:
Alas, Chris Wagner interrupted Mersch's lovely twirl!
The near misses continued into the second period, as Dowd rang the post on a left circle power play blast just 30 seconds in...and that would cover most of the offense in this frame, as Ontario didn't register an ES chance until about three minutes to go. In between, San Diego had some not very dangerous chances, held back their forecheck so they could clog the neutral zone, and generally, to their credit, choked the life out of the game.
These doldrums pervaded into the third. That is, until Kevin Gravel got the puck in deep on Theodore with about 12 minutes left. Anaheim's prized prospect regained possession behind the net, but Justin Auger's stick poked the puck up into Adrian Kempe's wheelhouse.
This was the LA star rookie's return after a five-game layoff and also his first goal in 18. According to the official scoresheet, Kempe's marker was unassisted, but the Swedish winger clarified later, "Yeah, I think Auger tipped it out...That's what he told me."
The Reign kept racking up the ES chances, enjoying a 6-0 edge for the period. But they couldn't break down the Khudobin Wall, and the Gulls survived to see OT.
And here, they soared: Kempe lost Sgarbossa, who was strolling down the slot, while Montour found his man:
From G.O.A.T. to goat, Kempe admitted, "I had a long shift there...I should be better. I knew the pass was going to come there, and I didn’t have my stick on the ice, so that was probably why they scored." Despite the wide-open nature of 3v3, Stothers didn't cut him any slack either, "They’ve got three, we’ve got three, it’s not that hard."
Tonight had a feeling of a point blown, as Ontario boasted a 14-8 ES chances edge overall, which doesn't even include all the close calls. Stothers, however, went back to draws like the one that Dowd lost cleanly in the first, which led to the O'Brien/Montour/Kerdiles/Kariya/Corkum goal, "The whole game, we lost defensive zone faceoffs. You keep talking about shooting too high...Got to win some faceoffs in your end."