EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – The Ontario Reign had high hopes coming into the 2021 campaign. Bolstered by the exciting Black and Silver Bandits — Quinton Byfield, Arthur Kaliyev, Akil Thomas, Samuel Fagemo, and Tyler Madden — the ceiling was high. A fast start in the Pacific Division seemed imminent with such young talent.
Then, the Reign began the season on a five-game losing streak. After two multi-goal losses against Henderson to start the year, Ontario has seen one-goal defeats in their last three games — including an overtime loss to Tucson (4-3) on Valentine’s Day.
On Wednesday night, Ontario looked to course correct and earn their first victory of the year against the visiting (and equally winless) Colorado Eagles.
Both teams started off trading offensive zone pushes while generating few shots. A Brett Sutter slashing call at 7:06 gave the Eagles their first power play of the night, but instead of yielding a goal, it generated a shorthanded chance for the Reign. Fagemo stole the puck in Colorado’s zone and pushed ahead for a one-on-one chance with Eagles netminder Trent Miner before being tripped up from behind. Fagemo was awarded a penalty shot, but after swooping from the right wing to wrist a shot from center, Miner blockered away the attempt.
The middle of the first frame saw Ontario turn up the pressure on Colorado. The Reign had six straight shots on goal before the Eagles fell to not one, but two tripping penalties from Josh Dickinson (15:47) and Alexandre Fortin (16:32). The resulting 5-on-3 for Ontario started with two consecutive shots hitting posts behind Miner, but ended with a goal shortly afterwards. Byfield passed from the right wing to Kaliyev front and center, who wristed a shot into the net at 17:27 to give the Reign a 1-0 lead.
Ontario carried the momentum of the game’s first goal into the second stanza, getting three shots on net in the first 30 seconds of gameplay. The two clubs traded offensive zone breaches until Ontario’s Aidan Dudas was whistled for interference, taking down Colorado forward Jean-Luc Foudy at 9:27. The resulting Colorado power play garnered six shots on goal, but Reign goaltender Matthew Villalta turned aside every attempt to help kill the Eagles’ man advantage.
The very next shot on net, Ontario made it count. Rasmus Kupari skated down the right wing side for a 2-on-2 chance with Blaine Byron. While Eagles captain Greg Pateryn laid out to try and block the play, Kupari navigated a pass to a waiting Byron on the left side. Byron evaded Colorado defender Keaton Middleton, batting it past Miner to make it 2-0, Reign, at 13:09 of period two.
Colorado responded with seven of the last eight shots on net in the second, but could not find the back of the net after 40 minutes.
The Eagles did their best to push the Reign to a 2-1 score early on in the third, but were met with stiff resistance in the neutral zone and in Ontario’s end. The defensive lockdown by the Reign resulted in a 15 to 4 shots on goal third period tally in favor of Ontario, a world away from the 18 to 9 SOG difference the Eagles had in the second period of play.
Colorado looked a step behind Ontario’s speedy forecheck, with the Reign entering and setting up shop in the Eagles’ zone time and again throughout the third. With time ticking down and scoring chances drying up, Colorado’s Ty Lewis was called for tripping at 16:44. The Eagles did kill off the aforementioned penalty, but had just around 70 seconds to score two goals and even the game up.
With six skaters hitting the ice and 21 seconds left in regulation, Colorado’s Ian Scheid set up Shane Bowers for a one-timer that made it past Villalta, closing the gap to 2-1 with 19 seconds remaining. The ensuing faceoff at center ice led to the Eagles’ final push, peppering Villalta with repeated chances in close. With just under six seconds left, it looked as if Colorado put another puck in goal and tied the game. However, the referee waved it off, stating that the puck was played with a high stick. The replay showed Foudy chopping at the puck with a high stick to center it, losing his glove and getting hit on the bare hand in the process.
The clock ticked down to zero after an Ontario clear, giving the Reign (1-4-1) their first victory of the season in their sixth game played. Colorado drops to 0-2-1, still looking for that elusive first win of their own. Miner saved 37 shots on 39 attempts; Villalta stopped 28 of 29 shots on goal.
Colorado and Ontario headed into their Wednesday night match-up near the bottom of the league in power play conversion. With the Eagles going 0-for-4 and Ontario netting 1-for-4 on the man advantage, their season totals now move to 1-for-14 (3 GP) and 3-for-26 (6 GP)…Colorado defenseman Keaton Middleton made his debut with the Eagles against Ontario. He had two shots on goal and a minus-one rating…former Eagles captain Mark Alt skated in his first game against his former team Wednesday night, donning number five for the Reign after wearing number 10 for the Eagles during his time there…Colorado rookies Ian Scheid and Callahan Burke are tied for second in points on the Eagles, both notching two assists in three games played…Fagemo’s penalty shot was the first one in the Pacific Division this season. The other two — in the Central and Atlantic Divisions — were also unsuccessful.