After last Friday’s disappointing game against the Roadrunners, the Reign returned to action Thursday night against the visiting Texas Stars. This is one of only two meetings this year as the Stars transferred to the Central Division, thanks to the addition of the Colorado Eagles to the Pacific Division. The Stars come to town with a record of 4-3-2 while the Reign possess a record 1-4-3. Following the game Thursday, the Reign’s next opponent were the visiting San Diego Gulls, who possess a record of 3-2-2. The last time these two clubs met it ended in a 6-5 shootout win for the Gulls on October 13th.
The Reign recalled defenseman Austin Strand from Manchester, and the Monarchs would also loan goaltender Charles Williams to the Reign to serve as Cal Petersen’s back up in the interim. Earlier in the week, the Reign had given a professional tryout contract (PTO) to goaltender Evan Buitenheis from the ECHL Worchester Railers, after Peter Budaj had been recalled to Los Angeles. However, Buitenheis did not appear on the roster for either game this weekend.
Ontario Reign (5) - Texas Stars (3)
There was hope that game would start favorably for the Reign, however, those hopes were quickly dashed as just a minute and twenty-seven seconds into the first period, a deflected breakout pass fell to a Stars player in the slot who quickly fired the puck at Cal Petersen. Petersen, for his part, was alert and in good position but the puck squeaked through his arm pads. The Reign’s net minder seemed to believe he had the puck, but was too late to stop the puck as it inched over the goal line.
Despite this disappointing start to the game, a minute-and-a-half later, Chaz Reddekopp would complete a phenomenal spin-o-rama pass from one face-off dot to the other for Matt Luff to bury past the sliding goaltender. Not three minutes later, Sheldon Rempal would get his fifth goal of the year, burying a loose rebound with 7:58 gone in the first period. The Stars would add two more goals late in the period, ending the period 3-2 in favor of the Stars.
Given the Reign’s record this year, it would have been a safe bet to assume that this game would be another high scoring affair. The second period proved this assumption to be completely false. Thirteen seconds in to the period, Matt Moulson would tally his third of the year with a nice shot under the blocker of the Stars goalie. The Reign defense became more settled and alert as the game wore on, beating the Stars players to pucks and making smart decisions. While still not perfect, this was a definite improvement over previous games and even over the first period. Cal Petersen looked to have found his mojo again, putting in a very solid performance, making two huge saves in waning minutes of the period.
The third period would see the Reign grow in confidence, firing 15 shots at the Stars’ net, while the Stars would manage just four in return. Rempal would score another with a hard wrist shot from the high slot, with 5:26 remaining in the game. With time winding down, the Stars would pull their goalie looking to tie the game up, but their efforts would be in vain, as Matt Moulson would get an empty net goal to put away the game. Final Score, 5-3 Reign!
Ontario ended the game with 36 shots on net, a combined 14 penalty minutes, going 1/3 on the power play, and a .919 save percentage
Ontario Reign (4) - San Diego Gulls (2)
Coming off of the victory on Thursday night, the Ontario Reign picked up right where they had left off. They looked much more settled than they have in the past, and while mistakes still occurred, the improvement in the team was evident. Petersen again got the nod to man the pipes for the Reign. With 12:52 left in the first, a turnover in the neutral zone lead to a clean breakaway for the Gulls, however, Petersen came out to challenge the player, patiently waiting for the him to make his move, and stopping the shooter cold to the applause of the crowd.
Play would see-saw back and forth until the Gulls would break the deadlock with 3:06 left in the period beating Petersen through a screen in front. Throughout the period, the boys from Ontario looked much more cohesive, and looked ready to compete for every puck.
The start of the second began with Ontario applying the pressure to the Gulls, and they were justly rewarded with 3:42 gone in the period as a shot from the left point fell to Zach Mitchell who poked it home for his third of the year. With the game knotted at one, the two teams would continue to trade chances, but would end the period without any further changes to the score line.
The run of play in the third would be much of the same, except now it was the Gulls turn to apply the pressure. However, the defense and Cal Petersen were equal to the task. With 10:35 elapsed in the period, Austin Wagner would pick up the puck near the half wall and skate in to the high slot. He let fly with a hard wrist shot that sailed past Kevin Boyle’s glove for Wagner’s first of the year with the Reign. Just 19 seconds later, Sam Herr would receive a pass from Kyle Bauman between the circles, hitting a one timer past a hapless Boyle. San Diego would continue to apply pressure, looking to get back in to the game, and with 2:54 left in the game, they would put the puck past the Ontario net minder to bring the score to within one. The Ontario defense would bend, but not buckle, and with the away team’s goalie pulled in favor of an extra attacker, Brett Sutter of Ontario would finish the game with an empty net goal with a little under a minute left in the final period.
Ontario ended the game with 27 shots on net, a combined 13 penalty minutes, going 0/5 on the power play, and a .935 save percentage
Points of Discussion
- Improvement: There has been a noticeable improvement in the team’s performance between this weekend and last. While it could still use some refinement, the defense looked much more capable and confident. I don’t want to get overly optimistic just yet, but it’s good to see the improvement.
- Goaltending: Cal Petersen looked like he was back to his former self, and while this is a small sample size in long season, he looked more well-poised in net than he has in the previous games. Again we shall see if this improvement sticks, but his performances this weekend showed just what he is capable of.
- Effects of John Stevens Firing?: With the coaching change occurring at the big club we will see if there are any changes that trickle down to the AHL level. With the team starting to find some stability, one would hope there aren’t any major disruptions to the group.
Two games, two wins. It was a relief to see improvement, especially on the defensive side of the team. We all like lots of goals but when you can’t keep the puck out of your own net it’s a bit aggravating. All we can hope for now is that the team can sustain this improvement. Neither of the Reign’s opponents this weekend were particularly fast or aggressive teams, and it is against those types of teams that the Reign struggle the most, but for now I will take the W’s where we can get them. It will be interesting to see how the team fares next weekend as they play the Stockton Heat in Stockton on Friday and at home on Sunday.
Go Kings, Go Reign.