Alright, everyone, let’s get excited for the playoffs!
No, not the NHL ones. Those ones are dead to me.
I’m talking about the AHL playoffs! I am 100% prepared to become a full-time Ontario Reign fan, now that the Kings are all golfing and/or resting various injuries, and you should too.
The AHL’s season comes to a close on April 15th, and your very own Ontario Reign have already punched their ticket to the post-season. They’ve clinched the third seed in the Pacific, right behind the San Diego Gulls, pitting the two teams against one another for the second year in a row. Ontario has sealed a playoff appearance for both years of their west-coast existence (last year, they made it to the third round of the playoffs, where they were swept by the eventual Calder Cup champs, the Lake Erie Monsters) and had six consecutive playoff appearances while they operated in New Hampshire under the Manchester Monarchs name.
The Reign clinched their trip to the playoffs last Friday. A loss by the Bakersfield Condors is what officially put the Reign over the top, but they cemented the post-season trip in their own right with a road win over the Gulls. Jack Campbell, the latest goalie rehabilitation story for the Kings, earned his fifth shut-out of the season. (San Jose’s Troy Grosenick -- you may remember him from a 45-save shut-out in his NHL debut -- leads the AHL with 10; Cambpell and three other goalies are all next on the list with five.) The Reign scored four times, including two power play goals scored a minute apart in the second.
The Reign and the Gulls are familiar foes, having met last season in the playoffs. The two teams met in the second round of the playoffs last year, with the Reign taking the best-of-seven series 4-1. Your leading scorers in that series were Nic Dowd and Mike Amadio, each with one goal and three assists. (Dowd lead the Reign in post-season scoring last year, with four goals and seven assists.)
The Pacific Division Semifinals begin on Friday, April 21, in San Diego, and return to Ontario the next night. The teams play in a back-and-forth format, with each team taking turns hosting. With two sets of back-to-back games, that’s going to be a lot of fun bus rides for all of the guys.
Pacific Division Semifinals
Game 1 – Fri., Apr. 21 – Ontario at San Diego, 7:00 PT
Game 2 – Sat., Apr. 22 – San Diego at Ontario, 7:00 PT
Game 3 – Fri., Apr. 28 – Ontario at San Diego, 7:00 PT
*Game 4 – Mon., May 1 – San Diego at Ontario, 7:00 PT
*Game 5 – Tue., May 2 – Ontario at San Diego, 7:00 PT
The Reign are 6-3-1 against the Gulls this season, with two games left to go. The clubs close out their season with a home and home on Friday (Ontario) and Saturday (San Diego). With no chance to move out of the number three seed, the Reign could choose to give more time to some of their recent acquisitions, including defensemen Chaz Reddekopp, here on an ATO after finishing his season with the Victoria Royals, and Matt Roy, who decided to forgo his senior season at Michigan Tech to turn pro.
As you all scramble to find ways to watch the Reign in the playoffs, here are some things to keep an eye on:
Redemption: After the Kings failed to make the playoffs, the trio of Adrian Kempe, Jonny Brodzinski, and Paul LaDue were returned to the Reign. They’re bringing a taste of NHL experience with them, and are widely expected to be leaned upon as leaders of the Reign in the postseason. Despite spending the end of the season with the Kings, Brodzinski still stands as the Reign’s leading goal scorer this season (25) and is second in points (47). As everyone up and down the organization says, your best players have to be your best players, and with Kempe, LaDue, and Brodzinski all poised to say goodbye to the AHL for good after this season, this is an excellent chance for the trio to show why they deserved to make that jump. All three seem excited to have a second shot at winning a championship, even if it means they’re driving up and down the freeway on a bus instead of in a chartered plane.
Discipline: Any AHL game is going to have its fair share of penalties, and Reign games are no exception. Their focus on avoiding needless infractions varies game to game, and in a high-intensity series like one against the Gulls, avoiding getting goaded into bad penalties will be key. The Reign have one of the league’s best power plays, sitting in third on the season (22.7%), but a middling penalty kill (20th out of 30 teams, at 81.4% success). The Gulls’ power play is in the league’s top ten (they’re currently in ninth, with 19.9% success), so keeping out of the penalty box will be important. The Reign’s leader in penalty minutes is Kurtis MacDermid, currently out of the lineup with an injury. MacDermid, for all the time he spends in the box, is also often looked to as a penalty killer, so his absence has been felt in more ways than one.
Experience: For all the new faces on the Reign, there are a number of players returning who won the Calder Cup in 2015 on the Monarchs. Justin Auger, Sean Backman, Andrew Crescenzi, Adrian Kempe, and Michael Mersch are all familiar with this playoffs grind, as well as captain Vinnie LoVerde, and perpetual grinder/funny guy Paul Bissonnette. And while we’re talking about experience, the organization also has Teddy Purcell and Devin Setoguchi stashed away in Ontario. Purcell’s had a huge impact on the Reign this year, putting up 35 points in 37 games. There’s a wealth of experience for the young faces on the Reign to lean on as they dive headfirst into the post-season.
Renaissance: I don’t know what they’re doing with goalies in the Kings’ farm system, but if there’s one thing we’re good at, it’s reclamation projects. Whether it was building up an undrafted Martin Jones, turing Peter Budaj into an All Star and NHL starter, or this year’s adventure with Jack Campbell, the organization is certainly doing something right. The acquisition of Campbell in the off-season was an afterthought, getting a goalie whose career was clearly finished in Dallas as a way to restock the team’s goalie pool. No one expected Campbell to have to assume starter duties, but then Jonathan Quick’s injury happened, and here we are. Campbell is putting up some of the best numbers of his career, and has had full control of the Reign’s net. Having confidence in your goalie is key, and the Reign can trust Campbell to get the job done for them.