It appears as if Ontario is finally coming into its own after having suffered a shaky start to the beginning of the 2018-19 season.
The Reign emphatically overcame the San Diego Gulls on Saturday’s Hockey Fights Cancer night by a score line of 4-2 at Citizens Business Bank Arena.
After last night’s win, Ontario is now tied for fourth place in the pacific division and their feathered friends are tied for last.
Ontario’s perpetually shifting roster paved the way for former Reign forward – Austin Wagner to make his season debut with the team, and Ontario defenseman – Sean Walker, to make his homecoming return after having played in four games with the LA Kings where he collected one point (0-1-1).
Naturally, in order to accommodate for the return of two skaters on the roster, short-lived 2018-19 Reign forward – Mike Amadio, who amassed three points on Thursday night against the Texas Stars (0-3-3), and second year Ontario right winger – Matt Luff, who lead the team with 12 points before his departure (6-6-12), were sent as a pair to play in LA a day after the team’s first regulation time win of the season against the Stars on Thursday.
San Diego struck late into the first as former WHL (Western Hockey League) defenseman – Josh Mahura, received a blueline pass on a powerplay which gave him loads of space to move up ice and slip a wrister through the legs of Ontario defenseman – Daniel Brickley, and past Reign goaltender – Cal Petersen, stick side.
Just over three minutes remained in the first after Mahura’s go ahead slot, but Ontario could not muster a response to San Diego’s goal in the final minutes of the opening period.
Before the Reign could head to the locker room, Ontario winger – Boko Imama and Gulls winger – Ben Thomson, dropped the gloves and tussled around the glass before Imama bulled Thomson over and into the ice.
The Reign trailed 1-0 as the period drew to a close and a freshly stoked fury, courtesy of Imama’s battle on the ice, filled Citizens Business Bank Arena.
The second played out similarly to the opening period, but in opposition to the first, favored Ontario.
Reign forward – Zack Mitchell, scored his third goal of the season and first goal of the night on a back-handed, five-hole, rebound that began with a wrister from the top of the slot from Ontario center – Brad Morrison.
Mitchell’s early equalizer produced an electric reaction in the stands at Citizens Business Bank Arena and gave the Reign an opportunity to capitalize on the second period; however, that never came to fruition.
As soon as the Reign had entered the second, they had just as easily dispersed back into the locker room, tied at one goal on home ice.
Midway through the third period, Wagner – Ontario’s newest edition to the forwards group – made a lasting mark on his first game back with the Reign by scoring an unassisted goal from the top of the slot, after tracking a fumbled pass along the boards in San Diego territory.
In the seconds following Wagner’s solo goal, Ontario expanded its lead from one goal to two.
Reign rookie forward – Kyle Bauman, used a burst of speed to maneuver in behind Gulls defenseman – Simon Benoit, circle through the backside of San Diego’s net, and gift-wrap a crisp slot pass to veteran Ontario forward – Sam Herr, who rifled home a one-time attempt to give the boys in black and white a 3-1 lead.
With just under three minutes left in the third, Gulls left winger – Max Jones, gave Ontario a bit of a scare as he drove home a speedy net-front attempt that resulted in a goal.
With a dash of hope left, San Diego sent their goalie – Kevin Boyle, to the bench in the hopes that an extra attacker might make the difference between a point or no points against Ontario.
San Diego’s plan to use an additional skater in the final period’s dying minutes, worked against them.
Captain and centerman – Brett Sutter, scored an empty net goal with a minute and change left on the clock, which effectively closed the book on another installment of the AHL version of the freeway faceoff.
“We played really well,” said Wagner in an interview after the game. “We played with a lot of energy tonight and we battled through the adversity.”
In a way that hockey players often do, Wagner accurately recounted the entirety of a game in a few short sentences – the words hanging on a careful mixture of truth and brevity.
Ontario will not play at home again until Sunday, Nov. 11 at 3 p.m. where they will take on Stockton in a home away from home series that features both teams playing a home and an away game in the same weekend’s span (as Friday Ontario will take on Stockton on their turf, as well).