On San Antonio Regional Hospital Night, the Ontario Reign donned special "superhero" jerseys to do battle against their archenemy, the Stockton Heat. Would the good guys triumph once again?
Early tragedy scars many a hero, and for Ontario, tonight was no different. About halfway into the opening act, Pat Sieloff curled away from Jordan Samuels-Thomas on the half wall and discovered a crack of light shortside high. "Sometimes, players are going to make a good shot," said Peter Budaj. "The player hits the bar and in." In Budaj's defense, he didn't have much of it either:
Then for some reason, Adrian Kempe tried flinging it from wing to wing to Justin Auger across the Reign blueline. Hunter Shinkaruk pounced and this happened:
Inexplicably, the 5'11" Shinkaruk was able to plow his way to the front, making it two Heat tallies in just 59 seconds.
Like a good superhero, Ontario got off the mat swinging, and after 20, had powered ahead with a 7-2 even strength scoring chances edge...but they were foiled again and again by the villainous Kevin Poulin.
A hero will sometimes make life harder for himself, if for no better reason than to add a sliver of doubt to his pre-ordained triumph. And so it was, just five minutes into the middle frame, when Kevin Raine fumbled the puck behind Budaj, and Morgan Klimchuk followed up. That's Drew Shore about to light up the Klimchuk dish, which Kurtis MacDermid had deflected to him. That's Matt Leitner and Samuels-Thomas standing there:
Down a triple, things were looking bleak for our heroes. But just seven seconds after Stockton's strike, Jonny Brodzinski swooped in. Oliver Kylington, bothered by Joel Lowry, backhanded a soft breakout which landed on Brett Sutter's stick at the right dot. Derek Grant, leaving Brodzinski in the slot, shaded toward the beautifully patient Sutter:
A word about the emerging sniper. After snapping seven shots on goal yesterday, he fired 10 tonight, at least six of them Grade-A opportunities. By hitting double-digits, he matched a college game-high. Stothers was unreserved with his praise. "Jonny Brodzinski was the best player on our team." Lowry-Sutter-Brodzinski was easily the most heroic home trio tonight. "It was just chance after chance for our line, and it’s everybody on the line getting chances too," emphasized the right winger. "Not just me."
A dramatic comeback was taking shape, at no time more evident than when Blair Riley took an undisciplined double-minor roughing and Shore high sticked Nick Ebert. This gave the hosts an almost-full two-man advantage with three minutes remaining in the second.
On their first 5v3 entry, Kevin Gravel slipped at the point, allowing Ryan Culkin to get it out. Following entry, Sean Backman skated into two Heat defenders, in effect turning a 5v3 into a 1v2. Clear. Next, Backman attempted to pitch the puck back to Jeff Schultz, but Brett Kulak tipped it out. Then Schultz, of all people, stickhandled it in, and Ontario finally set up with 30 seconds left on their two-man advantage. But a Kris Newbury fan, Poulin tip save, and an Ebert block more or less polished off this period. Leave it to Stothers to find the silver lining in this performance, "Well, I didn’t hurl on the bench, so I guess that’s a good thing. But I wanted to."
Yes, our heroes were really going to make it a dramatic final act.
And sometimes, it's the most precocious who lead the way in these sort of tales. Unfortunately for the Reign, six minutes in, that was 18-year-old Kylington cutting off a near-Kempe breakaway.
Indeed, the heat was on. But isn't that when heroes rise to the occasion?
With about seven minutes to go, Dustin Stevenson reacted to some pressure with a blind clear to MacDermid at the top of the circles:
Shortly thereafter, Michael Mersch was dashed on a stuff. Then Backman jumped on a loose puck in the slot, but Poulin! Finally, a weak Kulak clear set up a Schultz point shot, which Sutter deflected in tight with two minutes left...but that meddlesome keeper!
In the end, Brodzinski had to tip his cape, "I had about three breakaways on him, and he saved every one of them. Indeed, the baddies reigned this night, and one can almost imagine Poulin cackling as this sweet scheme succeeded:
And as pleased as Stothers was with Brodzinski, he was just as displeased with his pivots. "[Brodzinski] had 10 shots. Do you know how many shots other guys had?
"How many did Crescenzi have? None. How many did Kempe have in the middle when I had him in the middle? None. How many did Leitner have? None. And Newbury had one.
"If Brodzinski could have 10, how can those four guys have one between the four of them?
"So, I guess we’re just waiting for Dowd to come back? Here’s your opportunity, make something happen with it."