The Ontario Reign returned to the rink Wednesday, taking on the Texas Stars at home. The mid-week tilt was the first action Ontario has seen since their rainy outdoor game against the Bakersfield Condors Saturday night.
The final scheduled meeting between the teams, Ontario held a 1-1-1 record against Texas entering tonight’s contest. Last year’s series was dominated by the Reign with wins in each of the six meetings.
The game was off to a quick start with each team getting a chance with a man-advantage less than three minutes in, but neither was able to capitalize. Ontario received another power play chance when Damir Sharipzianov was tripped. Adrian Kempe one-timed a shot from a nice feed by All-Star defenseman Vincent LoVerde and made no mistake, beating goaltender Maxime Legace short-side. The goal was Kempe’s fourth in his last seven contests. The Reign carried the play for the rest of the period and carried their lead into the intermission.
After the game Kempe talked about his recent hot streak and the game.
On the game: “I don’t think we had a really good start. They came out with more speed than we did and they’re a fast team. We came out and let them skate a lot and put the pucks to the net.”
On the streak: “Trying to get in front of the net more, shoot pucks more. I think I have a really good shot, I haven’t used it too much this season so far. I try to improve and work on it everyday. I think it starts at practice and I know I’ve been good the last couple weeks on it. I need to get a couple goals and I’ve got a couple so far but tonight it wasn’t enough.”
The second period opened with LoVerde taking a penalty and Ontario killing the subsequent Stars power play. Kempe continued to show a strong presence on the ice with two more high quality chances, including one on a power play. The middle frame was tightly checked by both benches, making territory hard to come by. The Stars found a small window in the low-slot late in the period and Brendan Ranford poked one past Reign goalie Jack Campbell. Campbell spoke after the game about his play.
On the game: “I felt good in there, I felt sharp. dusty and I were really working on some details this week and I thought what we worked on I did really well tonight. Not happy with the loss and there’re a couple things I need to work on tomorrow that would have helped eliminate one or two of those goals. I know I have the ability to make those saves.”
On his preparation for high scoring teams: “As a team we have a great, strong team defense so we don’t really have to change. That’s the nice thing about how we play. I think with a team like (Texas) you’re more aware of getting pucks in deep and not turning the puck over because they’re coming at you so fast.”
Texas took an early third period lead when Gemel Smith found Matej Stransky with a beautiful behind the back feed. The puck came from behind Campbell, and Stransky labeled it for the top corner before the Reign goalie could turn his head to find it. Down one goal with about 11 minutes left, Ontario received a power play chance but couldn’t find the back of the net. Despite a thorough effort to tie the game down the stretch, Ontario was unable to do so. Kempe took a holding penalty with less than two minutes remaining and Remi Elie scored an empty netter, giving Texas the 3-1 lead. Wednesday’s loss was Ontario’s first regulation lost since Dec. 14th.
Ontario has been extremely successful when it comes to bouncing back from losses, something Coach Stothers talked about following the game.
On the loss: “I just didn’t think we played well. I don’t think we played hard enough I don’t think we played well enough. I don’t think we played with any desperation. I think we’ve played four bad periods in a row as far as I’m concerned.”
“We weren’t very good, we needed to be better. I think that was a game we could have had if we had played the way we’re capable of playing.”
On losing consecutive games: “Everybody talked about we won I don’t know how many in a ro, but they were all decided in overtime and close games. I had a meeting with our core group to say ‘there’s a real fine line between a winning streak and a losing streak.’ Now we’re officially on a losing streak. Close games, one mistake or overtime goes the other way. Don’t start patting yourself on the back because you won a couple close games. Now it’s time to dig down and get on the winning track.”
Despite Wednesday’s loss the Reign have been playing winning hockey, displayed by their 8-2-1 record in the last 11 games. The record reflects a team with much more poise and presence than they began their season with. A team playing closer to the level they expect of themselves and that many others anticipated as well. With leadership from veterans T.J. Hensick and Teddy Purcell, Ontario is a team back on track. After starting the season with LA, Purcell had 14 points in 12 games since being sent down.
After a slow start to the season Michael Mersch is once again leading the team in goals with 10. Fellow Kings prospects Johnny Brodzinski (9) and the aforementioned Kempe (8) are also top-5 on the team in goal production.
Ontario looks to bounce back Friday when they will face San Jose on the road. San Jose is just two points back of Ontario in the Pacific division. The Reign carry a 1-1-1 record into that contest as well, the last meeting ending with an OT win the game winner scored by Mersch.
Mersch – Hensick – Purcell
Sutter – Amadio – Backman
Auger – Kempe – Brodzinski
Bjorkstrand – Crescenzi – Herr
Sharipzianov – LoVerde
MacDermid – LaDue
Lintuniemie – Leslie