Manor Ontario Reign Lineup vs. Coachella Valley Firebirds; Big Return Probable

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After eight straight wins, the Reign have put themselves solidly in a playoff position, so nobody around the team has been hanging their heads after Wednesday’s 2-1 loss in San Diego. Nor should they. Ontario outshot their opponent 42-13 in that contest yet couldn’t come up with the tying goal.

Over the past month, coach Marco Sturm has seen his team thrust themselves into the upper echelon of the Pacific Division, with only two other clubs having more regulation wins than the Reign (27) — Tucson and Coachella Valley each have 30.

And wouldn’t you know it, the latter arrives at Toyota Arena on Friday night for a critical late season tilt. Each team has picked up points in 9 or their last 10 contests, so both sides are hot right now. Despite the fact Ontario has won four of the previous six game in the 2023-24 season series, things have been relatively close. Two of the four Reign victories came in overtime. Perhaps even more alarming is the fact Sturm’s club has only scored four goals total in the three games played at Toyota Arena.

For the final home game in the series — there is one more road game left to be played next month — the Reign are most likely getting forward Akil Thomas back from injury. He skated earlier today at the team’s training facility in El Segundo during an optional morning skate. If he’s able to get the necessary medical clearance, he should be good to go.

Following a blindside hit last Sunday, Thomas missed a pair of road games leading into tonight’s contest. He’s arguably been one of the best forwards for Sturm this season, providing consistent play at both ends of the ice while putting up 36 points (17G, 19A) in 55 games and providing substantial leadership to the team.



Surprisingly, Thomas has yet to record a goal vs. Coachella Valley this season. In in six previous games, the 24-year-old multi-talented forward has just a lone assist for his efforts.

In his absence, rookie Franky Pinelli has looked more than comfortable filling in at the 2C, a spot Thomas was moved into after Alex Turcotte was recalled to Los Angeles last month. It will be interesting to see if Sturm slots Thomas back into his usual 3C spot and leaves Pinelli where he’s been or flips the pair of pivots.

In net, Sturm has a choice of rookie Erik Portillo or veteran goaltender Aaron Dell. Each is expected to get a start in this weekend’s set of back-to-back games against Coachella Valley at home, then Bakersfield on the road Saturday. Portillo is 1-1 vs. the Firebirds this season and played in Wednesday’s loss to the Gulls. Over his past 10 starts, he’s allowed a total of 10 goals and sits third in the league this season at a .924 save percentage.

On the blueline, Kings prospect Brandt Clarke is expected to make his fourth straight start for Sturm. He’s been relatively quiet offensively the past few games, having gone two straight contests without a point (for only the third time this season). Over the course of 35 games with the Reign this year, he has yet to go three straight games without a point.

REIGN PROJECTED LINEUP vs. FIREBIRDS


Chromiak – Tynan – Fagemo
Hudon – Pinelli – Madden
Hodgson – Thomas – Ward
Pavlychev – Helenius – Doty

Hicketts – Clarke
Connauton – Santini
Krygier – Rowe

Portillo (starter)
Dell

Other roster options include: (F) Young and (D) Inamoto, Nousiainen, Wylie

Injured: Lee (expected back late March)

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

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