From the outset of the contest, it was clear one team was on a mission. This game was the first of twelve regular season meetings between the host Ontario Reign and the visiting San Diego Gulls, with the former determined to dictate the tone of this new relationship. In a similar fashion to the contest played on Halloween against the San Antonio Rampage, the Reign grabbed control of the puck early and often. The difference this time around was the absence of a fluke goal slipping passed the Ontario goaltender on the first shot he faced. Instead, it was LA Kings top prospect Michael Mersch opening the scoring and continuing his hot start to the 2015-16 season, notching his team-leading sixth marker thus far.
“Their guy lost his footing around our blue line and we were able to have an odd-man rush and Dowder passed it over to Vinny and Vinny passed it over to me and I was able to get my own rebound off my shot. We had a couple chances off that post actually and they just weren’t bouncing in for us. It was fortunate for me to get that one in,” said Mersch, of his goal.
He also spoke about playing on a line with fellow Kings prospects Nic Dowd and Valentin Zykov, “Z’s a first-year player and there’s growing pains and I think he’s doing a really good job though, a lot better than I was in my first half. He makes good plays, has good offensive ability and he hit the crossbar tonight but they’re going to start going in for him. It happens to everybody. Those pucks are going to start going in for him and Dowd’s great down the middle, great distributing the puck.”
The real star of this game was another top prospect for the Kings, Adrian Kempe. The young Swede broke the game wide open in the second period, recording a natural hat trick; including beating Anaheim Ducks goaltender of the future, John Gibson, twice on the power play.
As many remember, Kempe was taken with the 29th choice in the 2014 draft. After coming over and playing very well for the Manchester Monarchs during their cup run, expectations were high coming into this season. Although he stumbled out of the gates early, Kempe had his breakout game on Thursday night, something that didn’t get passed Head Coach Mike Stothers.
“We have kind of been waiting to see the Kempe we saw last year in the playoffs. I thought he had an OK training camp. I thought he’s been good for us in the early juncture here in the season but he’s the type of kid that you know there’s more there,” said last season’s AHL Coach of the Year. “And I think tonight, not just because he scored three goals, that was great, you just saw the hockey sense that he has in the offensive zone. You just saw his ability and I hope it’s a real confidence booster for him and I hope he builds on it.”
Kempe added the following when talking about his hat trick:
“[It was] probably the best hat trick I’ve ever had because it’s professional. I had a couple in junior, but this was probably the biggest one for sure.”
And which goal was his favorite?
“I’ll say, the third one was the favorite, but the first one was pretty nice goal, I think. I had a good opportunity all three goals but I would say the third one for sure because it was the hat trick goal.”
Ontario hops on the bus and head north to take on the Stockton Heat on Saturday night. The Gulls will be on their way north as well for a matinee contest against the San Jose Barracuda.
Video highlights of Kempe’s three goals can be viewed in the player below.
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