They see me rollin'. They hatin'.
- Jul 28, 2004
With a 3-1 defeat in their final game before the AHL All-Star break, Ontario saw their losing extend to four straight contests. However, there were several key improvements in Saturday night’s matchup with the visiting Calgary Wranglers.
Goaltender Erik Portillo backstopped the Reign and helped them flip the script from a pair of games played earlier in the week at Toyota Arean. The rookie netminder had a steady hand (and blocker) against a feisty Wranglers team, and the two clubs swapped chances and played even through two periods. Tied with roughly five minutes remaining in regulation, a three-on-two from the visitors would leave a man alone against Portillo to take a 2-1 advantage.
A rather aggressive decision by coach Marco Sturm had him pull his goalie for the extra skater with almost three full minutes left to play. Only 13 seconds later, a turnover off an unlucky bounce against a teammate’s skate led to a two-on-one goal on a vacated net for the final score of 3-1.
The Reign ended the three-game homestand this week with zero points gained and saw themselves slip further in the Pacific Division standings.
Entering a break in the schedule where Ontario only plays once in a 13-day stretch, practice and a reset can’t come at a more perfect time. After the game, assistant coach Chris Hajt said their focus will be on improving play with and without the puck, while also working on the transition effort. The Reign gave up the game-winning goal on yet another rush opportunity against, something that has plagued the team during their current slump.
As the most anticipated defensive prospect in the Kings organization, rookie Brandt Clarke continues to impress and entertain. It was in the middle frame that he elected to drop the gloves for his first professional fight.
We have video of his bucket-list fight and postgame comments from Clarke posted here:
In the Wolf’s Den: The Reign saw NHL goalie prospect Dustin Wolf for the 19th consecutive time when playing Calgary’s AHL affiliate. Spanning three seasons, the 22-year-old netminder has terrorized Ontario with a record of 14-3-2 in those 19 starts. The highly touted backstop now has a record of 93-26-8 with 2.37 GAA and a .928 save percentage in his first three full seasons as a pro.
Portillo’s Poise: Ontario also has an impressive netminder with Portillo, as well. In the eye test, Portillo shows poise and an infectious calm that seems to extend to his teammates. From the stats perspective, he’s settling into an eight-game stretch with a cool 2.38 GAA and a .927 save percentage. Overall, he’s also one of only four AHL rookie goaltenders to hold a save percentage over .910 on the season.
The Pro’s Pros: This weekend saw the returns of Clarke, Alex Turcotte, Sammy Fagemo, and Jacob Moverare. Moverare suited up in his first game since an injury in January and had a stellar effort. His plus-10 rating leads all Ontario skaters on the season, and coaches routinely mentioned how much they missed him during his absence. Clarke and Turcotte were both incredibly impactful and noticeable this weekend. While they only combined for one goal in two games, their pace of play and playmaking were on full display.
What to Watch For: Between injuries and call-ups to the NHL, the common theme of 2024 has been the availability of impact players. The Reign roster has been in flux — a common theme for AHL teams — during a time where more consistency would be helpful for a club looking to snap this eight-game slump. The Kings play a home game Feb. 10th and then hit the road for the east coast. All eyes are on which players will be recalled by the Kings later this week and which players will be available for the Reign coming out of their own All-Star break. At a minimum, Clarke and Turcotte are expected to back up in the NHL (more on that later this week).