Idaho, who had 20 fewer points in the regular season, came out and handled the Reign from beginning to end, putting a sour note at the end of their Pacific Division winning campaign. Now, a full season since that 5-0 loss on home ice, the Reign will have a chance to avenge their disappointment, as they head heading into the second round of this year’s playoffs against those same Steelheads.
The Reign will have their hands full though, as the two teams finished this season just two points apart in the regular season standings. Idaho also took the season series this year, winning five of the nine games played against Ontario. However, in a mini three-game series in Idaho last month, Ontario won two of the three.
Offensively, Ontario will have to watch out for Dallas, Texas native Austin Smith. He led the Steelheads in the regular season with 50 points in 37 games, and had five goals in their first round victory over Colorado. Former NHL 1st round draft pick Adrian Foster led the Steelheads with eight points in the six games. Idaho scored 22 goals over six games in the first round and will be looking to repeat that type of output once again.
Ontario’s Kyle Kraemer will be counted upon to fill a bigger offensive roll, due to C.J. Stretch being called up to the Oklahoma City Barons of the AHL. Captain Derek Couture will also be expected to add offense, while maintaining his strong two-way play and physical presence on the ice. Cameron Burt will most likely move up to forward, although he’s been moved between offense and defense throughout the year and remains one of the team’s most versatile players in that regard.
Nick Ebert, the 19-year-old Kings’ prospect from Livingston, N.J., should also be a huge factor for the Reign. Ebert, who came straight from the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires after their season ended, has already contributed with four points in his first four playoff games. Ebert’s strong shot and his power play abilities will have him seeing a lot of ice time in key situations.
On the opposite side of the blue line is Matt Case, the top defenseman for the Steelheads. He’s had a very impressive season, with six goals and 36 assists – good enough for the third most points by defenseman this season and was named to the All ECHL First Team. Case also saw time in the AHL via a call-up to the Manchester Monarchs in February.
Last season, goaltending was a problem in the playoff series against the Steelheads. Neither J.F. Berube nor Chris Carrozzi was able to show what they’re capable of or match their regular season play. Both had under .900 save percentages and Idaho averaged 3.6 goals per game.
Berube will be the starting goaltender for the Reign during the series opener on Friday night in Ontario. In their four-game sweep against the Utah Grizzlies, Berube allowed only six goals on the 98 shots he faced. Due to his own AHL call-up to Manchester this year, Berube hasn’t faced Idaho since mid-December. However, he appears to be on his A-game at the moment.
Between the pipes for Idaho will either be Tyler Beskorowany or Josh Robinson. Robinson started their first round series against the Colorado Eagles and played in three games. Just before Game 6 against Colorado, Robinson was called up to the AHL’s Texas Stars in the goalie carousel that was created when Dallas Stars’ goaltender Kari Lehtonen was injured against the Kings on April 9th.
Dallas then called up Christoper Nilstrop to Dallas, which led Texas to recall Robinson his spot in Texas, leaving Beskorowany in net for the final victory over the Eagles in Game 6. Robinson has since been sent back to Idaho. Got all that?
Beskorowany was the goaltender of record in three wins in the last series and has played more recently than Robinson which may give him the upper hand on starting on Friday. With his three wins in the last series, and his recently playing time, Beskorowany may have the upper hand on starting for Friday’s game
Looking ahead, the Reign may get additional support for round two – at some point. Stretch remains with Oklahoma City, which is currently in a playoff spot. However, the Edmonton Oilers recent number of call-ups have left the Barons with holes in their roster. There’s a slight chance that Colton Yellow Horn could be back for Game 3 of the series, depending on what happens in Manchester over the weekend. The Monarchs are currently two points out of a playoff spot with three games to play. If the Monarchs don’t qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs, Yellow Horn could see a Reign start date as early as April 24th. Dan DaSilva, who is the only other player available to be added to the Reign playoff roster, will most likely not return in time as the Houston Aeros will make the playoffs in the AHL.
For the Reign be successful against Idaho, one key element is scoring early. In the first round versus Utah, both home games featured early goals that set the pace of the game and gave the home team confidence. Once Ontario had the early lead they played ‘their game’ and were able to keep Utah on their heels. Even when the series moved to the road, the Reign never let Utah gain more than a one-goal lead and both games featured late goals, giving momentum to the Reign at the right time. They went on to win both games in overtime.
Now, it’s time for the Steelheads, with Game 1 on Friday night in Ontario, followed by Game 2 on Saturday. Tickets are still available for both games through the Ontario Reign website and arena box office.
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