ONTARIO, Calif. – Coming off of three wins in a row, the Ontario Reign entered the weekend in second place and holding on to a playoff spot. They were looking to solidify their position with back to back games against the bottom two teams in the Pacific Division.
Friday night, the Bakersfield Condors arrived in Ontario ready to claw into a playoff position, or at least play spoiler. Jonny Brodzinski got the Reign on the board first late in the first period with help from Michael Mersch and that lead held until 15 minutes into the second. Then Cal Petersen misplayed the puck behind the net just after a Reign power play had ended. Joe Gambardella stole the puck and put it past a diving Petersen to tie the game. The Reign were unable to recover, surrendering three more goals in the third, including an empty net goal while trying to kill a penalty.
Immediately following their loss, the Reign hopped on a bus to San Jose for a Saturday night match-up with the Barracuda.
There, the Reign would once again score first, when a shot from Michael Mersch bounced its way up and over Antoine Bibeau. Ten minutes later, Kyle Bauman picked up his first goal of the year with another puck that crawled its way around Bibeau. In the next two-and-a-half minutes, the Barracuda cut the Reign’s lead in half, then Matt Moulson put the Reign up 3-1.
The second period brought a scoring bonanza as first Emerson Clark brought the Barracuda within one goal again three minutes into the period. Five minutes later, Philippe Maillet picked up his 17th of the season, re-establishing the two-goal lead. Justin Auger picked up his own goal 13:34 into the period, chasing Bibeau from the net after surrendering five goals on 15 shots. Stephon Williams didn’t fare much better as Sean Walker put the Reign up 6-2 ninety seconds after he took the net. Rudolf Balcers notched the fifth goal of the period two minutes later, but the damage was done.
A final goal from Austin Wagner late in the third period gave Ontario the 7-2 win.
The Good: Maillet had a monster night in San Jose, picking up a goal and four assists to move to second on the team in goals. Michael Mersch, who leads the team in goals and points, was not far behind with a goal of his own and two assists.
The Bad: Ontario has been guilty of taking late penalties when games are close or they’re trying to tie it up. Friday night, Austin Wagner was the guilty party, setting up an empty net goal that sealed Bakersfield’s victory.
The Ugly: When Cal Petersen allowed Bakersfield to tie the game Friday night, the Reign seemed to deflate. Instead of shaking it off, they seemed to lose confidence in their net-minder and couldn’t get back in the game.
The Results: The Ontario Reign sit at third in the Pacific Division, 0.018 percentage points above the Texas Stars and 0.010 percentage points below the San Diego Gulls. The Reign’s magic number to clinch a playoff berth is at ten. San Jose and Bakersfield are still at the bottom of the division with 0.525 percentage points apiece.