Last June, the Manchester Monarchs reigned supreme, proving that they were the best team in the league on their way to being named the kings of the AHL. On Friday, their defense of said title began, albeit under a different name. The Ontario Reign traveled north to battle division rivals, the San Jose Barracuda, in Game 1 of their first round playoff series.
The opening 20 minutes saw both teams trade chances, with Ontario creating more opportunities early, before San Jose answered with a flurry of shots on a powerplay to close the period. Neither team found the back of the net, as the game went to intermission scoreless.
In the second, Ontario broke through and took a 1-0 lead. Near the midway mark of the period, Nic Dowd won an offensive zone faceoff back to the point, where Kurtis MacDermid blasted a puck through traffic, beating a screened Aaron Dell.
MacDermid’s goal seemingly woke up the Reign, who went on to dominate the final 10 minutes of the middle frame. In that time, Ontario controlled the puck in the offensive zone nearly the entire time, despite being able to add a second tally.
San Jose answered back in the third period, tying the game 1-1. Entering the offensive zone with speed, Nikita Jevpalovs deked around a sprawling Kevin Raine and buried a wrister from the slot past Peter Budaj.
Late in the third, the Reign reclaimed the lead off of a Barracuda turnover. An attempted pass along the boards by a San Jose defenseman was cut off by Brett Sutter, who threw a pass to Jonny Brodzinski in the slot. Uncovered, Brodzinski took a step, and was able to deke around Dell and slide the puck in for the 2-1 lead.
Ontario tightened down defensively and was able to hold on, taking Game 1 and jumping out to a 1-0 lead in the series.
Though he wasn’t forced to make a large amount of grade-A saves, Peter Budaj played very well in net for the Reign. He made all the saves that could be expected of him, and was only beat by a tremendous move by Jevpalovs. Should he continue to play this well, San Jose will surely struggle to find the back of the net once again.
While there is a tremendous group of veterans that won the Calder Cup last year to help lead the way for the Reign, they got it done with their young players. Both the goal scorers, MacDermid and Brodzinski, are rookies, and the fact that they came up big in Game 1 was not lost on their head coach.
“If you’re going to win in the playoffs, you know you’re going to be able to rely on the experienced guys and the veteran guys, but you need other people to step up. Brodzinski tonight, contributes with the game-winning goal. MacDermid scores from the back end – a young guy coming through;” said Mike Stothers. “And I thought that was the best game Kempe has played for us in a long time. I acknowledged it. I think it’s that important that those guys are recognized in front of their teammates, and now in front of (the media).”
Brodzinski is familiar with making a big impact on games. At St. Cloud State, Brodzinski was the catalyst for the Huskies offense, and one of the best collegiate goal scorers in the country. His AHL playoff debut was fantastic, as he showed incredible poise to not rush off a shot and find the back of the net. It hasn’t all been easy for the young winger, who took some time to adjust to the AHL game.
“Probably just being scared right away to make a mistake, and that’s something you can’t do at this level. There were points at the beginning of the year where I’d only get one or two shots a game, or zero shots a game. After the halfway mark (of the season), I kind of changed my look at the game,” explained Brodzinski on his transformation and progress over the year. “I started throwing more pucks at the net, and fortunate enough that many went in.”
Veteran leader and Reign captain Vincent LoVerde knows what it takes to win a Calder Cup. He’s proven to be a leader and mentor to some of the younger players on the team. While he’s known for his consistent and sound defensive play, LoVerde has been known to chip in offensively from time-to-time, including scoring the game-winning and series-winning goal in Game 5 versus Utica last year. In Game 1, LoVerde showed that he is multidimensional, activating from the blue line often to help create offense for his team, something he has focused on doing this year.
“I like to be as active as I can in the offensive zone – keep pucks in, keep plays alive, those things. MacDermid is great defensively, so I know he’s going to be back for me if something does go awry. It’s something that I’ve tried to add to my game this year – just being a little more active in the offensive zone, making plays, getting pucks to the net.”
Game 2 takes place Saturday night from the SAP Center in downtown San Jose.
Lines for Friday’s game were as follows:
Michael Mersch – Nic Dowd – Sean Backman
Adrian Kempe – Brett Sutter – Jonny Brodzinski
Kris Newbury – Andrew Crescenzi – Justin Auger
Jordan Samuels-Thomas – Ryan Horvat – Paul Bissonnette
Kurtis MacDermid – Vincent LoVerde
Derek Forbort – Nick Ebert
Jeff Schultz – Kevin Raine
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