Winning at the pro level isn’t easy. And the young Reign players are learning it the hard way in 2021.
After earning their first victory of the season on Wednesday, they came up short Friday night in a rematch with the visiting Colorado Eagles. Things didn’t start out well, as Ontario fell behind 1-0 early, and then eventually 2-0. However, they fought back to tie things 2-2 when rookie defenseman Cole Hults scored his first AHL goal. Colorado notched their third goal shortly thereafter and later added an empty netter to end things 4-2.
🍎 Clauge and Kupari
Kupari adds to his league leading point total
— The Mayor | Team MM (@mayorNHL) February 20, 2021
Cole Hults ties the game with his 1st pro goal! Assisted by Clague(1), and Kupari(7) #Reign pic.twitter.com/5rE9WLeViA
— Eric (@Kingsgifs) February 20, 2021
Following the final horn, Reign coach John Wroblewski shared the following thoughts:
On the overall game and coming back for a bit in the third period
I thought Colorado was the bigger, more determined team to start the game off. They taught us a lesson about professionalism, grit, and grind in the first two periods. We were very fortunate to be in the game after two and then an outstanding job of clawing back in. I can’t say enough about our third period. To be a one period team, we still haven’t really figured out a full 60 yet. It certainly reared it’s head tonight.
On if there were any pregame discussions about grinding out full 60 minute games
Yeah, we talked about that the second that we won the game the other night. We tried to give the guys five minutes to enjoy it, but then tried to refocus on determination level and playing the same team. Today, we knew the roster that they were gonna show up with tonight. There was another reminder in the morning meeting about that – this is gonna be a different team with different intensity and we have to find a way to re-rack and bring the right amount of structure. I’ll just say this, we gave them so many free passes. Let’s just use our d-zone as the example, we gave them so many free passes where we did not pursue the puck, we couldn’t be second quick on it because we weren’t ending plays. Then our wings were just getting picked apart in the coverage too. If we ever tried to double team a puck, which is necessary to break up plays, you’re not gonna win one-on-one battles all night. You need that second player there. I won’t divulge too much of our system that way, but We were miserable in that department of closing, breaking up plays, ending, stopping their flow. They had us in defensive zone coverage running around, probably more times tonight than in the last five games combined.
On if they’ll be looking for a sense of redemption playing Henderson in their next game after two poor performances vs. the Silver Knights to start the season
Let’s see what we learned here. Actually, I thought our first game against Henderson, we played pretty well. Then, we had a similar effort [in the second game] to what we got tonight at the start. The exception was our goaltending was rock solid tonight. Berube wasn’t as sharp in that second game in Henderson. He cleaned up a lot of our problems the first two periods and I feel really bad for him that we couldn’t grab that third goal ahead of Colorado or grab the equalizer and give him another shot at a victory because I thought he was really good tonight.
On what he liked after pulling the goalie late in the game when Ontario went on the power play
I didn’t like it very much at all, to be honest with you. I’ll use [Rasmus] Kupari’s shot from the flank. We had net presence around it, but if we’re gonna be delivering that shot to the net from that spot, it should really be servicing a rebound instead of trying to pick the goalie from 55 feet. All in all, not enough action down and around the net on the 6-on-4. It’ll give us a little bit of opportunity — give Craig Johnson opportunity, to talk to those guys a little bit more — that we should be delivering even more pucks to the paint with the extra guy. Even though our net is empty, we can get them running around, we have the extra player to recollect. That’s always the focus on the power play anyway, to get as much action around the blue paint. Going 6-on-4, just because we have time on our side doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t have the urgency to pound pucks into that space, then recollect on it. It’ll be a mindset, we’re gonna reform it, and hopefully it’ll stick. Repetitions are everything for professional, and these guys are learning that too still.
On being down 10 seconds into the game, and if that changes the game strategy at all
No, not really, I wouldn’t look at it as ‘coaching the score’ or even anything like that. I think when you start to maybe toss things into the blender, it has more to do with how players are playing – what they’ve given you. Then you’ll start to hopefully notice who’s going, who’s not. Tonight, we had a couple guys who were passengers in the early going, the first couple of periods. A couple guys were playing maybe a little bit out of position, not to their comfort level, so that one little bit of just hesitation, it can lead to what someone might kind of look at as not working hard. I think we had a little bit of that going. It was interesting; I thought that [T.J.] Tynan being the guy that really makes the play to start that thing off — and [Kiefer] Sherwood, I don’t know how many games those guys have played this year, if any. They showed what a guy coming down from the big club, or a taxi squad who’s trying to make a statement, they both, Tynan in particular, made a loud statement tonight with his play. I think he was 2-and-1 at the end.
On if he takes the age and experience of the opposing team into account when evaluating his team’s performance
I think it’s something to consider, but I’ll just reference the third period. When we came out in the third and asserted ourselves defensively, it leads to [Brett] Sutter’s goal right afterwards. Then another play, where [Aidan] Dudas draws the penalty from our d-zone, it’s off a faceoff, but it’s that same determination and assertiveness in our own end, which we have displayed quite regularly with this group. Tonight was a bit of an anomaly that way, but that was one of the better lineups that we’ve gone against – in terms of thoroughness, hard on the puck, skating, real determination to plow through checks, to touch first in the offensive zone, and to end plays in the d-zone. It’s great for our guys that they rallied for the third, but we need to be the ones who are starting that game. Up to this point, I think we’ve done a good job with our starts, but it was very indicative that Tynan came to play and that those guys weren’t — it’s not that they’re not happy about suiting up for the Eagles — but their determination is to make a statement playing for them at this point. They don’t want to be here. They want to play up and they’re making a loud statement that they didn’t want to be here. Great game by TJ [Tynan].
On playing back-to-back games against the same team and any momentum associated with it
With the series set up this season, winning the night before can help you. Also, a veteran team and a team that’s really glued together, with guys that are determined to win for the team that they’re on, it’s gonna give them a little bit of added incentive. I think that it can work both ways. With the new structure, when you’re rolling, you’re playing a different team every night, that might give you a little bit of fluidity, a little continuity. But re-racking against the same team, when they’ve got the right mix of character on the other side and guys plowing together, that second game can be a real beast for the team that won the first one. That’d be my read on that. I come from a background that pays attention to college hockey a lot. There’s a lot of splits in college hockey for that reason. Playing the same team back-to-back gives you a lot of opportunities as a coach to not focus on the next opponent, you’re almost worried about your team a little bit more, which I really like. The scouting report revolves around somewhat what they’re doing, there’s a little bit less, you don’t have to introduce as many items that are unfamiliar to the players. There should be a feeling out process for what the other team is doing, and we can concentrate a little bit more on what our habits are and our details. That’s one thing that I actually really enjoy about the back-to-backs against the same team.
On his message to the team between the second and third periods
Well, it was exactly what I alluded to with our defensive zone coverage. Our team, when you look at our scoring chances that start from d-zone play, we have a higher percentage than most of exiting the d-zone under control, with speed, predictable line rush routes, and then it goes the other way and we create off of it. For me, to put ourselves out there a little bit more in hot pursuit, calling out a few areas such as our wingers being able to control and manage anybody that’s coming up into their space, knocking down a few more pucks, and ending a few more plays. That then entices the little guys to play more determined and a swarming type of game, just on the opponent. For us, I thought we were waiting around for the perfect time to close, as opposed to using our five-man system, guys backing each other up and getting that first one being the most important, getting that quick exit. That gives way to the free play which I spoke of earlier, they just had us running around way too much in our d-zone. That drives me nuts when I watch that from the bench. Kudos to the guys for re-racking and adjusting.
On if plans to put players in unconfutable situations at times just to gauge how they react and where they’re at on the development curve
We don’t even have to force those because of how young we are. Say it’s a neutral zone face-off for Quinton Byfield last game after we give up a goal, it’s 2-1. We get to learn those lessons and that’s definitely part of the job right now. It’s to try and help these guys. First, they have to get a grasp of what it’s like to compete in the AHL, night in and night out. Before they even really get to the point of ‘let’s win, let’s start winning consistently.’ That’s something that we’ve recognized from the get-go. They have to learn all of these little lessons about being where they are now. The Ontario Reign is your focus. It’s not dreaming about the big club, it’s making sure you’re here, invested 100% in on this team. They wouldn’t be in the spots that they were if they weren’t looking to the future. It’s up to us, and them, to make them appreciate the significance of this point of their career. If they don’t grab every ounce of it and take it all in, they might end up playing in the NHL but they’re gonna be missing something out of their ultimate experience as a player, and what that’ll be for their character, deep down as a player. We’re helping them through all this stuff. We have a great staff and tremendous leadership. We’re confident that this group will get to where they need to. It’s not gonna happen overnight and it’s not going to happen overnight. This is something I’m fairly used to with going through a U-17 year at the NTDP. You have a lot of nights like this, where you have a young group of guys that have to try to forge together and they’re not quite sure what it means to be a team yet. There is internal competition to try and make it to the NHL, but they still have to band together and play as a unit, so they can have success now – not only as individuals, but as a team. It’s a great challenge to try to piece together. There’s always little holes you have to plug in with a hockey club. With a young, inexperienced team, no matter what level is, there’s always more. The reward will be high and we’ll just keep pushing.
Friday’s Ontario Reign lineup can be viewed here.
Kings Of The Podcast: S2, E11 – Ontario Reign Season Preview with John Wroblewski
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