Manor AHL Playoffs: Projected Lineup, Reign Look to Advance to Round 2 on Saturday

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For all the talk about coach Jim Hiller being sort of a mad scientist in Los Angeles, frequently changing his lines and routinely coming up with new looks, Ontario coach Marco Sturm pulled off a pair shocking moves himself for Game One of Ontario’s first round series with Bakersfield.

The former NHL forward turned AHL bench boss scratched Kings prospects Martin Chromiak and Franky Pinelli in that contest. Considering only three other Reign players scored more goals than the former’s 15 during the 2023-24 regular season (and the latter wasn’t far behind, putting up 13 goals), it raised more than a few eyebrows.

Why did he do it?

“It was a tough call, but my gut was saying that I wanted to go heavy,” said Sturm, referring to the two players he slotted into the lineup instead. “It’s obviously disappointing for a guy like Chromiak or Pinelli because these guys played unbelievable all year long, but I have a good feeling that they will be very important in these playoffs. I don’t know when, but again, this was my gut for Game One and I think it paid off.”

Indeed, it did — in a pretty spectacular way. After three straight years of disappointing performances in the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs, Ontario put a solid thumping on the visiting Bakersfield Condors, skating to a 5-1 victory at Toyota Arena.

Tyler Madden had a big night, scoring a pair of goals, and Akil Thomas netted his sixth goal in six career playoff games.

Now what, that’s the question?

This is a best-of-three series, so the Reign only need to win one of the next two games to advance. Game 2 is Saturday night in Bakersfield, with a potential Game 3 at 5pm Sunday back in Ontario. Will Sturm roll with the same lineup, hoping to close out the Condors quickly? If there is a third and deciding game, it will come less than 24 hours later, so a few lineup changes would be expected then anyway to allow for some fresh legs.

Since moving west and kicking off the AHL migration to California, the Reign have only made it out of the first round one time. That came during their inaugural season in 2015-16, with former coach Mike Stothers behind the bench. It was a group that featured Peter Budaj in goal, along with forwards Paul Bissonnette, Adrian Kempe, Nic Dowd, and Michael Amadio. Manning the blueline were guys like Derek Forbort, Kurtis MacDermid, and Vincent LoVerde.

There isn’t a single player from that team still around today. However, the Reign do have one person who links it all together — assistant coach Chris Hajt. After a brief departure to the Sabres, he’s been back in Ontario the past few years and has proven to be a valuable member of the team’s coaching staff.

Along with Hajt, that 2015-16 team had the perfect mix of players needed to go all the way. However, after rolling through San Jose and San Diego in the first two rounds (only losing once in each series), they were ultimately eliminated in the Western Conference Finals by the eventual Calder Cup Champion Lake Erie Monsters.

Tonight, in Kern County, the current Reign group can make a little history of their own. Although it’s far too soon to suggest they could go on another magical run, a victory would be rather significant. The win would advance Ontario to Round Two for only the second time, and first in nearly a decade.

Reign Projected Lineup vs. Condors


Similar to Game 1, tonight’s lineup projection is a bit of a guestimate. One of the more interesting moves among Sturm’s scrambling of the chessboard on Wednesday was leaving Alex Turcotte at LW1, rather than putting him in his usual 2C spot. Chromiak has seen time at LW1 at LW3 of late, so he could draw into either of those two spots. And what about Andre Lee, who scored during a four-goal onslaught in the second period last time out? He’s seen time on all four lines this season and could easily be deployed in a handful of different scenarios.

Nothing is guaranteed here, yet we’re thinking Sturm inserts one of the two previous scratches into his lineup — with perhaps Pinelli being the more likely player. While he could draw in at 4C, allowing the third line to stay intact, we’re assuming 3C for potentially a little more offensive punch.

Turcotte – Tynan – Fagemo
Hudon – Thomas – Madden
Lee – Pinelli – Ward
Pavlychev – Helenius – Doty

Hicketts – Clarke
Connauton – Santini
Nousiainen – Wylie

Portillo (starter)
Bednard

Other roster options include: (F) Chromiak, Francis, Hodgson and (D) Krygier, Millar, Rowe

Puck drop is scheduled for 7pm Pacific Time and the game can be viewed on AHLTV.

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