In the first night of a back-to-back road series against the Pacific Division leading Tucson Roadrunners, the Ontario Reign leaned on their power play to defeat the home team 5-1. With the victory, Ontario ended a three-game losing streak and pushed their record to 2-1-1 against the Roadrunners this season. On the heels of a commanding performance in Arizona, the Reign have also moved up to third place in the Pacific.
All eyes were on Ontario’s special teams after a disappointing 6-2 loss last time out, where they went 0-for-4 on the power play and allowed four goals in six penalty kill attempts. After a week of practice back in SoCal, the Reign penalty kill was perfect in three attempts on Friday night, while the power play showed a unique 5-forward set-up when on the man advantage. That configuration went 3-for-7, including two goals from Kings prospect Martin Chromiak. Later, he went on to complete the hat trick. They served as his first three goals during January, and he now has 11 goals in 39 games this season. He also led all Reign skaters with six shots on goal.
Rookie goaltender Erik Portillo had another strong performance, recording 41 saves and only allowing one goal against. After turning aside all 15 shots in a flawless first period, Portillo was the difference-maker in the second period, where the Roadrunners largely dominated the action. He stopped two critical breakaway opportunities, but it was a mere rebound goal on a second effort where his defense left Tucson’s Nathan Smith to sneak the lone Roadrunner goal past the 23-year-old netminder.
Tensions flared and emotions escalated between both teams during the middle frame. It all began when a heavy hit by Ontario’s Hayden Hodgson sent Peter DiLiberatore to the dressing room injured with 3:36 remaining in the second period. From that point onwards, the game would see 78 penalty minutes assessed for a total of 84 PIM on the evening. With that, the stage is now set for what should be a spirited rematch on Saturday.
Multi-point Nights: Chromiak (3G, 1A), Charles Hudon (1G, 3A), and Akil Thomas (1G, 2A) led the Reign offense. On the season, it is Chromiak’s third multi-point game, and Thomas’ seventh multi-point performance.
Real Deal Akil: Alternate captain Akil Thomas has had a red hot 2024 thus far, with 12 points (6G, 6A) in 10 games. And what’s even more impressive are his 25 points (12G, 13A) in the past 25 games. Now fully healthy, the 24-year-old forward is once again turning heads and putting together a very special season.
Line Changes: With Andre Lee expected to miss 4-6 weeks with a lower body injury, coach Marco Sturm changed his lineup a bit for Friday’s game. Thomas was bumped up to the second line and moved to the wing to reunite with Alex Turcotte. They share a special chemistry, and it showed once again, connecting on a 2-on-1 play down low for Thomas’ goal.
What to Watch For: While the Reign roster is devoid of injured heavyweight Jacob Doty, there seems to be a limited list of players to contend with the heavier and more aggressive teams like the Roadrunners, who play a feisty game filled with excessive scrums after whistles, sticks to hands, and things that generally tend to provoke the more physical side of the game. It will be interesting to see how Ontario’s roster of highly skilled players responds when they meet the Roadrunners again on Saturday.
Dell’s Debut: As reported earlier today, newly acquired goaltender Aaron Dell is set to make his Reign debut on Saturday. Signed as a free agent once the Kings lost Pheonix Copley for the season, Dell has yet to appear in a game. He played last year for AHL San Jose, suiting up for 38 games and posting a 3.14 goals against average and .898 save percentage. In his 11-year professional career, Dell has appeared in 130 NHL games for the Sharks, Devils, and Sabres.
Lead photo courtesy of Tucson Roadrunners
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