For their final game in March, the Ontario Reign are coming in on a bit of a hot streak. They’ve won seven of their past nine games, including taking both games played last weekend.
One of their losses during that stretch came in a 5-3 defeat last Wednesday at home. It was especially frustrating for the group because after giving up two goals in the first period, Ontario had an impressive second period, tying the game 3-3 and momentum looked to be on their side. That all went out the window, though, with a San Diego goal just 1:13 into the third period. Tonight, in the Gulls home barn, coach John Wroblewski and team will be looking for a little payback.
They’ll do it with a slightly different lineup, as Lias Andersson is still up with the Kings. On defense, Daniel Brickley will draw in after being on the same Kings roadtrip in Vegas. However, he was returned earlier today.
And, for only the second time this season, both Imama and Doty are in the lineup at the same time.
Ontario Reign Projected Lineup for Wed. 3/31 vs. San Diego
Alex Turcotte – Quinton Byfield – Arthur Kaliyev
Mikey Eyssimont – Rasmus Kupari – Devante Smith-Pelly
Aidan Dudas – Akil Thomas – Nick Halloran
Boko Imama – Brett Sutter – Jacob Doty
Cole Hults – Sean Durzi
Jacob Moverare – Markus Phillips
Daniel Brickely – Kale Clague
Matt Villalta (starter)
Other Roster Notes:
— Newly acquired Christian Wolanin (via the Senators for Mike Amadio) is not available just yet due to quarantine protocols.
— Sammy Fagemo remains out injured, likely won’t be back for a few weeks
Wednesday’s puck drop is scheduled for 7pm PST and can be streamed through AHL TV.
To help set the stage, here are some recent comments from coach Wrobo…
On Clague scoring his first goal of the season on Friday, off a beautiful pass from Eyssimont
I was really happy for both of them. I don’t like to say that a corner has turned or anything like that, but I thought that was Clague’s most impactful game. I thought he was very quiet defensively. His turnover ratio was very low. He wasn’t around any weird items. There weren’t any, ‘How did that guy slip behind us tonight?’ moments. He was really sharp. And, offensively, he did a lot of good things. I was really happy for both of those guys. We can just bank on Mikey. We love his passion, the way that he brings it every game. It was very special for both of those guys. Hopefully, it’s a little lift off their shoulders.
On if Dudas is rounding into the player he had hoped for
He’s a ways off. He’s building an identity. He needs to be a thorn in the side of the other team. We believe that he can facilitate offense, he can be a contributor, but his calling card is going to have to be that he is the most annoying guy to play against. The other team absolutely hates it when he rolls the board; they’re worried about him, they’re concentrated on him. The other team’s goalie is having to manage him in the paint. The other team is chirping him before faceoffs. He has to be more of a pest. He has to be peskier to play against. That’s going to be his avenue to the NHL. It’s not going to be as an offensive player; it’s going to be as a gritty, team-first, and dynamic pest that is out there killing penalties and doing everything he can to get the other club off their game. Then he pounces, he has enough skill to pounce on it and make plays, but that has to be something that is secondary for him. He has to be that annoying player to go against. We’re seeing glimpses of it, but it’s not often enough. … Sometimes for a guy like that, who needs to inject a little bit more of that pest — that F-you on it — he’s going to have to learn that. It’s going to be something that if losing ice time is a part of that equation, then so be it. We’re going to use that as a hammer over the top of him. We need to see it from him.
On if there is a way to draw out obnoxious behavior from a player on the ice
Yes, I think they just have to embrace it. Sometimes that comes with a little bit of a pack mentality, as well. As much as I want to get him to that spot now, to start working on that, we need other guys to drag him into the fight. When we have Boko in the lineup that does help. Boko stirs up a lot. You can probably guess it from watching him play. Also, at ice level and on the bench, he’s open to discussion. Quite often, he’s getting under the other team’s skin and letting them know where he’s at and that he’s coming for them. Aidan could use a little bit of what Boko brings that way. He’s a real strong leader, and Aidan can get there for us. The quicker, the better. For him and us.
On carefully managing criticism of a player to not take away from their confidence.
There’s a special vibe; you’re not going to play your best every night. I keep going back to it. When we do concede free-play in the defensive zone — which is happening a little too often for my liking right now, where the other team gets to kind of roam around at will and we’re basically in contained defense, going into man-on-man — I really have a lot of time for how well we’ve started to defend in that area. That means guys are taking personal pride in their box-outs and body positions, making sure that they are taking care of the team. Usually, that’s when guys are getting really tired, so you have to appreciate the battle level and the pride that the guys have. For us, it’s about finding that extra gear. Even when you wake up in the morning and you’re not feeling your best. You’re not always going to have that, where your legs have that jump. You have to find ways to gather that power for that night, and know that you have a B-game to back up on. We have a lot of guys who are trying to sort through what it’s like to play with an A-game, and pretty much the whole team is trying to figure out how to get by when they don’t have it, how to play a B-game. Having guys drafted where they are, they’ve never had to work on a B-game. That’s a tough thing to teach too.
On what lessons the players have learned to help them win more games recently
Number one, it’s having a personal identity, which then falls in line with the team identity. When the lineup is ever-changing, the team identity is a little bit harder to hit a bullseye on. For example, when Amadio came in, he played a different game than, say, Byron was playing. It is falling back on your personal identity. Taking the team concepts that we’re trying to implement and then fitting them into how it works with your game. Using the individual video with the assistant coaches, taking their tips, and injecting that into your game, which fits into the team identity. When you have a lot of players trying to find out how they fit into the team and also trying to survive in pro hockey, it takes some time. You’re starting to see that guys are buying into the play behind the grind sets up their skill. Whether we can get to all of that in one game, or one period, consistently, then it falls in line with, ‘What’s our basepoint with our defensemen, our team defensive identity, and our goaltending identity?’ Every night you’re going to need contributors in each department. Last Friday, we were spearheaded by our back end. Our goaltending was awesome. Fantastic! That gave us a little bit of confidence to maybe play a little looser, which guys certainly tried to take advantage of. We can continue to bank and be a different team on a nightly basis, but there are certain foundational items that have to stick. A foundation sometimes takes a long time to build and manufacture. It does, it always takes a long time. We’re still fighting to create that foundational basis for these young guys.
On Eyssimont’s advanced stats suggesting he creates more opportunities that most in the AHL, even if it doesn’t always show up in the usual offensive stats
Mikey is always going to be one of those players where his calling card has to be being a thorn in the other team’s side. Somebody who is just extremely annoying to play against. Pesky on the forecheck, just a very difficult player to defend. A lot of times, we try to preach the mantra ‘The work you put in today might not show up initially.’ You’re going to have to build a base for it. Sometimes you put enough credit into your account, then things start going your way eventually. You have to believe in yourself, believe in the team, and the process you’re involved in. I think Mikey is starting to see some of those rewards of dominating the momentum of the game for a long time, but not showing up on the scoreboard. It was great to see him get that bounce on Friday and then score on Saturday.
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