ONTARIO, CA – Saturday morning, LA Kings goaltender Jeff Zatkoff was injured during the morning skate. The word spread like wildfire throughout the hockey community as the Kings lost a second goaltender to a groin injury. As luck would have it, both the Kings and their AHL affiliate, the Ontario Reign, were playing at home that night. One call later and Jack Campbell was in a car on his way to LA.
Leaving recent call-up on a PTO and current feel good story, Jonah Imoo, with the starting netminder job for the Ontario Reign. To add to the storyline, the Reign needed their own back-up for Imoo, so they decided to dress their goaltending coach. In a history-making move, Jonah’s father and Reign goaltending coach, Dusty, was signed to a PTO to be his back-up. It was a Disney film move that only needed a win.
The rest of the Reign didn’t get the memo.
Already facing a last minute upheaval in net, the Reign also lost Justin Auger and Adrian Kempe to the stomach flu. The rest of the team played as if they were experiencing symptoms as well.
Last season the Reign were known for starting a game physically, running over teams to establish that they were going to control the ice. The Barracuda came out ready for this and willing to play the Reign’s game. Ontario wasn’t prepared or willing to match them. After chasing the Barracuda for much of the first ten minutes, the Reign were gifted with a power play. The power play units looked as out of sorts as ever, but Patrick Bjorkstrand, playing in his first game, managed to wring a goal out of it. After that, however, the Reign’s offense disappeared. They allowed San Jose to dominate every aspect of the game, managing to only send three shots on net while San Jose tallied 11. Of those 11, one went through, tying the game.
Things did not go much better after the period break. Another goal from San Jose put the Barracuda up 2-1, and the Reign chased the game from there. Another power play goal from Bjorkstrand would tie the game, but only for three and a half minutes. San Jose tallied a power play goal of their own to make it 3-2. Brett Sutter tied the game again 13 minutes into the period, but that lasted only 1 minute when the Barracuda scored yet again to make it 4-3 despite heroics by Imoo to stop as much as he could.
Ontario managed to attempt offense in the third period and even registered some decent possession time, but it rarely translated into scoring chances. An individual effort by Andrew Crescenzi tied the game once again, then Imoo was left on his own to keep it that way.
And he did, forcing overtime once again.
In overtime, it became the Jonah Imoo show as he stopped breakaways, 2 on 1s and point blank attempts for 3:30 minutes, fully earning the love the fans began to heap on him. It was the last breakaway by San Jose, however, that ended the night with the Barracuda winning 5-4.
Impressive: While we have been extolling the virtues of Jonah Imoo, he wasn’t the most impressive player for the Reign. That honor belonged to Patrick Bjorkstrand. Throughout the first two periods, he seemed the only Reign player fully invested in the game, factoring in all three of Ontario’s goals. Illness gave him an opportunity to make the lineup and he made the most of his chance.
Not So Much: Ontario’s play was so underwhelming that it is difficult to narrow it down to one aspect. The penalty kill is still concerning, going 3-for-5 on the night. Michael Latta had a particularly rough night, many times looking lost and turning the puck over while he tried to decide what to do with it. Finally, the Reign might want to work on puck handling this week. While San Jose can be credited with some great steals, the Reign were sloppy with the puck throughout the night.
Elsewhere in the Division: The San Antonio Rampage fell to 0-3 on the young season with a home loss to the Chicago Wolves. The Tucson Roadrunners continued their California tour with their first regulation win in Bakersfield. The loss dropped the Condors to 1-2 so far. Adin Hill got the start for the Roadrunners and had a good showing, stopping 31 of 32 shots, forcing the Condors to go 0 for 6 on the power play. The Texas Stars went south to visit the San Diego Gulls, where they were handed another loss despite scoring three goals in 5 minutes in the third period. Those three goals put them up 4-3, but the lead lasted for a minute and a half. San Diego responded with two quick goals of their own to regain the lead and win the game.