ONTARIO, CA – It’s January, which means a bunch of home games for the Reign. It has been a tradition going back to their ECHL days that the AHL has picked up on. Their apparent reasoning is that teams would rather play in the Inland Empire in January.
As such, the Reign are currently in the middle of a 11-game stretch where 10 games are played at home (the one away game being played in Bakersfield which is surprisingly similar to the IE) which includes the current week packed with five games.
San Diego was the first up, kicking off the three game weekend on Friday night. The Gulls are currently struggling, having lost seven of their last 10 games and were on a two-game losing streak when they took to the ice Friday night. Unfortunately for San Diego, it was more of the same. In an odd role reversal, the Gulls spent more time on the penalty kill than the Reign and surrendered chance after chance on their net. Khodobin looked a little shaky and the team seemed not to trust him. The Reign, on the other hand, had all cylinders firing at full strength. It still took them until 19:33 in the first to break through, but a power play goal from Derek Army opened up the gates. Two goals in the second and two more in the third gave the Reign a 5-0 victory. Vincent LoVerde had an impressive three point night (1G, 2A) and Samuels-Thomas was rewarded for his hard work with the two third period goals.
Saturday night, the Condors took to the ice. On the other side of the coin from the Gulls, the Condors have been putting together some good games and have crawled into fourth place in the division. The last game the two teams played, the Reign suffered from a lapse into their bad habits. Saturday night, they were just out played. The Condors beat the Reign at their own game, forcing them to play on their terms & controlling the pace of the game. The Condors held a 2-0 lead after the first period and though Nic Dowd had a two goal game, the Reign were unable to score any more. The empty net goal made the final score 4-2 Condors.
Sunday afternoon heralded the first game for Michael Houser since being called up from Manchester, giving Budaj a much needed night off. Houser started off strong, keeping the score at 0-0 despite quality chances from the Texas Stars. The game settled into a defensive match played mostly in the neutral zone with few chances at either end until a Reign power play 13 minutes into the second. Houser wandered out of his net to pick up the cleared puck & sent it up the ice, looking to get the Reign behind the Star’s defense. Unfortunately, the puck was picked up by Jason Dickenson who had just come off the bench. With Houser still along the boards, Dickenson threw the puck into the open net to put the Stars up 1-0. It would be the only blemish on an otherwise solid game for Houser. Nic Dowd was able to continue his monster weekend, tying the game 6:33 into the third period with help from Vincent LoVerde who was having his own good weekend. With the game looking like it was headed to overtime, Andrew Crescenzi stunned the Stars with a power play goal at 19:37.
The Reign closed the weekend having gone 5-5-0 in their last 10 games and still hanging on to first place in the division, second in the Western Conference.
Impressive: With Houser looking much better than in the preseason, the pressure on Budaj to play every game has eased and we assume we’ll be seeing more of the backup netminder. Nic Dowd carried a good portion of the Reign’s offense this weekend and looked good doing it. Vincent LoVerde recovered from a less than stellar series last weekend, leading the Reign to two victories and a chance at a third. Jordan Samuels-Thomas continued to impress with his level of play and we were happy to see him rewarded with two goals.
Not So Much: After a strong home coming weekend, Adrian Kempe had a couple of bad games and on brutal one Saturday night. He looked out of sorts most of the time he was on the ice and couldn’t seem to find any chemistry with his linemates. Michael Mersch also seemed uncomfortable with the team. Despite assisting on one goal, his game was noticeably off on Saturday night and distinctly average the other two games.
Elsewhere in the Division: The Texas Stars began their California tour with a 4-2 win over Bakersfield then handed the Gulls yet another loss Saturday night. The wins have brought the Stars back into third place in the division. Bakersfield took Sunday off then journeyed up to San Jose where they won 5-2 over the Barracuda. San Jose started the weekend out with a 5-2 win in Rockford before traveling to Iowa for a 2-1 overtime loss. Stockton followed San Jose on their midwest tour, with reversed results. Rockford shut the Heat out in a 3-0 win, then Stockton took their revenge on Iowa with a 7-4 win. San Antonio hosted Milwaukee who in turn won both weekend games. The Rampage have now fallen to 6th in the division, just above the Heat.