Manor Reign Recap: Ontario Wrangle Eighth Straight Victory to Become AHL’s Hottest Team

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If there was a test of character for the 2023-24 Ontario Reign, the trip to Calgary was their final regular season exam.

Just last year, the Wranglers were the top team in the American Hockey League; and while not quite the No. 1 team this season, they’re still a dominant force in the Pacific Division.

In game two of a back-to-back set played Monday in Alberta — and with Ontario’s seven-game winning streak on the line — coach Marco Sturm’s team played with a noticeable determination. They had a plan and were committed to execute it — especially considering they were playing an opponent that would be their first round foe if the playoffs started today.

Coach Marco Sturm has been pushing all the right buttons of late, yet noted it was the players in the locker room who took exception to what they felt was a dirty play in the game prior, when Wranglers forward Clark Bishop blindsided Akil Thomas and was assessed a major penalty for kneeing. Thomas was held out of this game because of an injury suffered on that play.

Just 13 seconds into the rematch, Ontario’s Kevin Connauton answered the call and fought Bishop to atone for the hit on his teammate. Things progressed into a rather heated affair throughout most of the night, as the Reign continuously balanced their attention on locking down a victory and sending a statement to Calgary, perhaps even the rest of the league.

While both teams exchanged a pair of goals in the opening frame, Ontario pressed the entire game and delivered a heavy 60-minute effort to beat Calgary via a convincing 6-2 score, securing their eighth win a row.

In a rare sighting, Sammy Fagemo did not score a goal. Instead, it was Connauton (3), Steven Santini (4 and 5), Tyler Madden (12), Charles Hudon (19), and Nikita Pavlychev (3) who found the back of the net for Ontario. Veteran goaltender Aaron Dell earned his fourth win in his seventh start of the season and saved 31 of 33 shots.

The Reign went into Calgary tied in the standings, but left town with a four-point cushion over the Wranglers, outscoring them 11-3 in the two-game series.

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Thomas Injury: Although Thomas was sidelined for the final game north of the border, early word is it’s expected to be a rather short-term situation. As of yet, he has not been ruled out for the final game on this road trip, coming Wednesday in San Diego.

T. Madden: Madden enjoyed a two-point effort (1G, 1A) and is on a nifty run of four points in five games (1G, 3A). The 24-year-old winger had been seeing consistent time with Hudon and Thomas on a second line that Sturm deploys and trusts given their production of late.

Promotion for Pinelli: Speaking of second line, rookie forward Francesco Pinelli was the next man up on Monday, promoted to center Madden and Hudon in the absence of Thomas. That line showed poise and chemistry, chipping in for three of the team’s six goals.

Chromiak’s Contributions: Martin Chromiak has moved up and down the lineup this season; however, he’s recently settled in nicely with the top line of T.J. Tynan and scoring leader Samuel Fagemo. The second-year pro has six points (1G, 5A) over the past seven games, aiding in the success of his linemates as well.

Goaltending Rotation: Sturm has relied on a strong team defensive to pick up points in nine straight games, and his goalies have flourished in a rotation that routinely rotates between Dell and rookie Erik Portillo. In the nine-game run, Portillo (4-0-1) has a 1.40 goals-against-average (GAA) and .956 save-percentage (SV%). Over the same stretch, Dell (4-0) boasts a 1.50 GAA and .948 SV%.

Next up, the Reign head to San Diego, where they’ll face the Gulls in the final road game of their trip on Wednesday night.

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Photos courtesy of Calgary Wranglers

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