In the AHL, rosters change almost daily. Lineups vary from night-to-night, as players are lost to injuries or call-ups, while others are brought in to fill the gaps. On Saturday, the Ontario Reign saw a rather big return to their lineup, as six-foot-five defenseman Kurtis MacDermid returned from a 12 game suspension for a hit to the head on Matt Bailey of the San Diego Gulls. MacDermid, drawing into the Reign lineup, made his presence felt from the blueline throughout the game, as his team went on to beat the San Jose Barracuda 2-1.
MacDermid opened the scoring in the game midway through the first period. After Michael Mersch’s pressure on the forecheck forced a turnover in the Barracuda zone, Nic Dowd threw the puck from below the goal line to MacDermid at the left point. Walking the line, the defender threw a shot that hit off the left post, ricocheting off both other posts before finding the back of the net.
With under five to play in the opening frame, the Barracuda drew even at one. After Jeremy Langlois moved the puck from the left offensive corner to the slot, Bryan Lerd tapped a short pass over to Trevor Parkes, who took a stride towards the net and slid the puck between the legs of goalie Peter Budaj.
As the clock ticked under a minute left in the first, the Reign’s top line put their team in the lead once again, converting on an odd-man rush. Attacking on a three-on-two, Nic Dowd dished over to his left to Mersch, who quickly threw a beautiful pass across the ice to Sean Backman, who shot the puck into the empty net for the 2-1 lead.
The second period saw MacDermid return to the spotlight, but for a very different reason. Deep in his own defensive zone, MacDermid got his elbow up and right into the face of a Barracuda player. Referee Terry Koharshi justifiably whistled MacDermid for the penalty. After his teammates worked hard to kill off the infraction, MacDermid returned to the ice, only to take yet another elbowing penalty on his very next shift. Fortunately for him, the Reign boast a tremendous penalty kill and were able to bail MacDermid out for his blunders.
A rather uneventful third period ended with neither team finding the scoreboard, as the Reign closed out the game on their way to victory.
In net, Budaj played rather well, though he was not heavily tested. The Reign as a team only allowed 19 shots, with very few high-quality scoring chances allowed for the hometown Barracuda. The lone goal to sneak by Budaj was a rather stoppable shot, but otherwise, Budaj made every save he needed to make on the way to his 22nd victory of the year. Few of those who saw Budaj play last year, or even read this recap of Budaj’s lone appearance in Manchester, could have expected for the veteran to have such a tremendous season. Alas, Budaj has proven all critics wrong, as he has been an important factor in the Reign’s tremendous first half of the year.
While it is easy to look at MacDermid’s return to the lineup as a success, there is more that a little cause for concern. MacDermid has a history of hits to the head, which is something no one can deny, even if it isn’t his intention. During his time playing juniors, MacDermid was suspended for eight games for a hit to the head of Max Domi, who is now with the Arizona Coyotes. Now, after returning from an even longer suspension for yet another hit to the head, MacDermid appears to have not learned his lesson, as he was called for two elbows to the heads of opponents in Saturday’s game.
The young defender is clearly struggling to toe the line. While his game is built around being a tough defender to play against, MacDermid must find a balance and do so while not hurting his team, nor removing himself from the lineup for extended periods of time. The positive side for MacDermid is that at 21, the youngster has plenty of time to learn from his mistakes.
“He is what he is. He is going to be a marked man with that suspension. That’s going to hang over his head, probably forever. So, he can’t be reckless, but, he still has to be a presence, and that’s a fine line. It was a fine line even before he got suspended,” said coach Mike Stothers on MacDermid. “It’s going to take some time. I think, with him, he’s kind of anxious to get back in the lineup and get playing again. He wants to make his presence felt. We’ll see how it goes. First game back, emotions, excited. 12 games is a long layoff. We’ll see how it goes. If we need to talk to him, we’ll talk to him.”
Speaking of big-bodied Reign players, Justin Auger played one of his better defensive games since turning pro last year. The lanky winger used a combination of his reach and strong positioning to break up several plays in his defensive zone. While issues such as compete level shift-to-shift still linger, Auger looks to be improving his game, which is exactly what the Kings are likely hoping to see out of the former Guelph Storm.
Though playing limited minutes, Joel Lowry also found a way to make an impact on the game. Lowry threw two big hits during the game, one of which drew a penalty after a Barracuda reacted to being jolted by the rookie. Lowry, having spent the entire off-season recovering from an injury, will have to continue to make an impact any way he can to impress the coaching staff if he hopes to climb the depth chart this year.
Lines for Saturday’s game were as follows:
Michael Mersch – Nic Dowd – Sean Backman
Adrian Kempe – Derek Army – Justin Auger
Jordan Samuels-Thomas – Andrew Crescenzi – Valentin Zykov
Joel Lowry – Ryan Horvat – Paul Bissonnette
Kurtis MacDermid – Vincent LoVerde
Kevin Gravel – Zac Leslie
Jeff Schultz – Kevin Raine
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