For the first time this season, the Reign have won back-to-back games. Each game this weekend was unique it’s own way. They scored first in both, yet Friday night was a little more back and forth at times. By contrast, Saturday was a dominating performance.
The final score may have been 4-2 and the shots on goal favored the Reign by a slim margin of 27-23. That just doesn’t tell the story, though. Ontario outworked the Silver Knights all night long. The defense was much more controlled than it’s looked most of the season. JF Berube nearly looked like a different goaltender in net, when comparing his starts on Friday and Saturday. And up front, the top line of Turcotte – Kupari – Kaliyev were even more dangerous than they were on Friday, which is really saying something.
Kaliyev had three points Friday night, including two goals.
Saturday saw Alex Turcotte score his first AHL goal and earn an assist on Sean Durzi’s first goal of the season:
Game highlights vs. HSK:
Even when Henderson pulled their goalie with over three minutes remaining in regulation, Ontario kept their composure and closed out a 4-2 victory.
After the game, coach John Wroblewski shared the following thoughts:
On enjoying back-to-back wins after a slow start to the season
Really happy for the guys. It’s interesting, you wouldn’t know coming to the rink that the team had the record that they did. They’ve come every day exuberant. We’ve certainly had some hard beatings and some tough practices, but they respond very well. Their youth allows them to be like that yellow lab that keeps coming back with a good attitude and happy to be out at the rink. That’s an environment we’ve tried to foster despite not getting the result we wanted with wins and losses. We’ve tried to keep things energetic at the rink and excited, guys feel like they’re getting better every day and we’re trying to learn something every day. All the credit goes to the players on that, their attitudes have been tremendous.
On the first period being the best 20 minutes he’s seen from the team all season
The 60-minute effort tonight was one that we can hang our hat on. Each period we might have gotten better. At first, we surrendered some scoring chances. Henderson is a heavy team, really tough to play against. We might not have been ready for that heat right away. The guys settled in, and then it was extremely thorough. It was as close to a 60-minute effort as we’ve seen all season. Tremendous effort from all facets.
If there’s anything different that the team did in preparation for the last two games
There’s a number of things we’ve honed in on this season. There haven’t been a lot of parts that we’ve been able to leave alone thus far. This week, we really concentrated on our defensemen having better gap control. While we were yielding too many odd man rushes, we felt like there was a number of them that our d-men could have nullified by just being slightly more patient to start off that odd man rush against, not giving up every single line. Tonight, it really shown through. Last night, we still got burned a few times, trying to set our gap, be a little bit tighter. We surrendered some short ice 1-on-0s and 2-on-1s by trying to apply that. The defenseman had a much better night of managing their gaps. That doesn’t happen unless you have good back pressure. We talked a lot, it’s a cultural item that we haven’t been really able to address. It’s the four or five trackers, it’s the guys farthest away from the puck, and what their details are. How hard they’re working away from the puck. This weekend, we were much better on that.
The structure has been in place, but we’ve been trying to piece it together. Every game, it seems like something else really needed to get addressed. Finally, we left the structure alone and talked more about some cultural things in detail. It did shine through this weekend. The players, number one, we had that top line of Turcotte – Kupari – Kaliyev. They were a threat every time they jumped over the wall. when you have that one line that’s a threat, that has the other team on their heels, it certainly lets the other guys play a little bit freer and backs the other team down ever so slightly. Everybody else responded accordingly, we had 12 forwards going all weekend. It allowed the D to settle in and have those gaps.
On the team’s effort for growth and developing full 60-minute efforts
It’s all timing, right? It’s getting the proper performance and the right feed. JF [Berube] doing his job and being there for us to start the game off and giving the guys the confidence to set in. The dominoes just start falling after that. It’s getting that confidence, the first wall battle, the first loose puck battle. All these things, the dominoes start falling. The results take care of themselves and they’ll take care themselves at the right time. When you commit yourself fully to the team, to the endeavor, to yourself, and you’re getting a growth mindset on a daily basis, the results will take care of themselves. I’m not saying that we have everything figured out here, we don’t. That was as close to a 60-minute effort as you can get from a group of guys who a couple weeks ago in San Jose couldn’t even touch the puck. We’re really happy with the guys, the way that they played. It was a full team effort.
On signing former NHL forward Devante Smith-Pelly earlier today and what he brings to the team
We’ll find out. We got put in a tough spot, we believe in this group, but losing [Tyler] Madden for an extended period here. We’re excited for Devante to come in and hopefully turn on his career. This can be a pedestal. I speak to the veterans about this all the time. When we bring the young guys along, not only does it make our team better, which makes the vets better, but it looks great on your resume – To be a leader on a team that fosters an environment, that brings and yields the young talent to be able to shine through and feel like they’ve got a little incubation; they have some guys doing the heavy lifting for them. That’s what Devante is gonna be able to do. He hasn’t played in a while, but we’re hopeful that his timing can be a sharp as possible. He’s a hell of a player. We’re really excited for him to help us and for us to help him.
On Alex Turcotte getting back on the scoresheet and his first month as a pro
That’s a tough question. With Alex, knowing him since he was 15, getting to coach him for a couple of years, I know that he burns to win with everything, whether it’s a face off, or a loose puck, trying to be the best in the gym. He wants to shoot more pucks after practice than the next guy. And, of course, he wants to see numbers in his stat line. That’s what any elite player wants. They want to ultimately do it the right way, but they want to see those goals and those assists pile up. He’s had a tough go. The one thing that Alex can always bank on here, he comes into training camp with the Golden Goal in his pocket from the World Juniors. He has to keep banking on that confidence, what a rare thing that is, and a resume piece to have. Then you miss all the timing. It’s great that you have the World Juniors, but then you miss a few weeks and your timing goes off. You’re not in tune with the way that we’re trying to play with the details and practices. Those are not small issues. Those are massive things for a group that we have, with the youth that we have up front. We really can’t have any errors. Those guys need to get the heavy lifting and they have to have their details down. It’s not surprising that [Turcotte] wasn’t rewarded on the score sheet, but his analytics and the way that he drives play are off the charts. We can always bank on that, and true to form, the result will come at the right time.
On working on large-scale culture aspects with such a young team
Every day seems to spring up a new message. There are motivations, and things pop up, whether it’s in details from meetings, or something to do with an assignment away from the rink that we’ve given them. Every day, something new has sprung up. There’s no shortage of us having motivation or trying to find ways to get these guys better. Now, hopefully, they’re gonna take care of some of these things on their own and we can lay off the hammer a little bit on the system items, and try to really hone in on what they can do individually, which will ultimately make the team better.
On themes in off-ice assignments he has for the team
We’ve been doing voice-over meetings. Chris Hajt, in particular, has done a lot of those. Our meeting space, we’re doing the best we possibly can with it, but it might not the most conducive environment to get guys to respond and ask questions and things like that. We’re just trying to tie up as many loose ends as we can with some of those out of office type meetings. It’s, ‘What have you retained from those? What did you get out of it?’ Did they even watch it? We can track that. Did we actually get everybody to watch it today? That’s the most important thing. Then, it’s building off of that. They really are kids, sometimes they forget to do their homework and it’s up to us to help them along as best as possible. When they do get together as a group, and when they’ve been able to have a week like we’ve had, the results showed up. We’re excited for what we can bring. Now, the mark of the professional is to see if we can remain consistent with it, or whether we think that things are gonna be easy now that we’ve had a couple wins. Is it just gonna roll over for us? Are teams gonna be ready for us? And how are we gonna dictate going forward?
Kings Of The Podcast: S2, E11 – Ontario Reign Season Preview with John Wroblewski
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Lead photo courtesy of Ontario Reign