Manor Reign Recap: RD3, GM1 – Ontario Drops Division Final Opener; Lee Extends Goal Streak


They see me rollin'. They hatin'.
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Is there such a thing as a ‘good’ – or possibly – a necessary loss?

For a team like the Ontario Reign looking for 16 wins to claim the Calder Cup, the journey is never as easy.

“If you want to win it all, you’re going to lose at one point,” said coach Marco Sturm after his team dropped Game 1 to Coachella Valley on Wednesday. “We were good enough to not lose a game yet, but today [was not] one of them.”

After taking a 1-0 lead shortly after puck drop, things eventually fell apart late in the first period, with Ontario giving up two quick goals. The Reign ultimately came up short, dropping the series opener by a final score of 3-2.

“We played good enough to win this hockey game,” Sturm continued. “We didn’t give them much. Those little mistakes cost us, but we’re going to try to fix it and try to see what we can do better and get ready again for a big Game 2.”

While a loss would come as a surprise in a game where the Reign more than doubled the shots on goal generated by their opponent, outshooting the Firebirds by a 31-15 margin, it was Coachella Valley show skated away with a victory on home ice.

During his post-game media availability, Sturm seemed satisfied keeping the AHL’s highest-scoring regular season team to only 15 shots, noting how his club didn’t give up much to one of the best teams in the league.

Traveling to Coachella Valley for Game 1 should have come with a healthy dose of confidence, as the Reign were previously undefeated their this season. Now, with a loss under their belt, they can relieve the pressure of chasing a perfect record – even though that was unlikely to happen.

In theory, some adversity for a team should help in a potential long run to the Finals.

In this specific contest, things starting going sideways midway through the first period. After jumping out to control the pace of play early on in the contest, the Reign were first on the board thanks to another brilliant effort by the third line. After bullying his way into the offensive zone, Taylor Ward fought off the Firebirds and found Andre Lee (4) all alone in the slot to put away a perfect shot to take the 1-0 lead with his third goal in three straight games.


— Ontario Reign (@ontarioreign) May 16, 2024

As the period wore on, Coachella Valley inched their way back into the game until they took dominance with two consecutive goals in a span of 58 seconds.

First, a turnover in the Ontario zone led an open shooter to quickly fire a shot on net and deflect off two defenders, causing the unintentional deflection to beat goaltender Erik Portillo with the change-up. And then after sustained zone time where the Reign had three chances to clear, the Firebirds shot from the top circle through four bodies to beat a blinded Portillo for a 2-1 lead.

“It was just two or three mistakes, Sturm remarked, as he recapped the loss. “It’s playoff time, and the guys need to realize that every shift is important. On those kinds of shifts, you’re going to make mistakes. If you’re not ready, especially off the faceoff right away, then it’s going to end up in your net.”

Coachella Valley added another tally in the second period on one of their only three recorded shots on net in the middle frame. A missed coverage on the face-off in the Reign zone allowed a Firebird to wrist another long shot from the top circle that cleanly beat Portillo. While the young goaltender initially argued he was interfered with, the goal counted to make it 3-1.

Opening the third period in a two-goal hole, Ontario’s perseverance paid off with an early power play goal from Samuel Fagemo (2) – a dazzling far-side wrister which cut the deficit in half, 3-2.


— Ontario Reign (@ontarioreign) May 16, 2024

Despite outshooting the Firebirds 14-4 in the final period, the Reign could not find the tying goal before the end of regulation and dropped Game 1 of the best-of-five series.

Despite the outcome, Sturm confidently stated there is “no reason to panic” after the game. Instead, there was a lot to like in the way the Reign attacked the game.

A good team takes a loss on the chin. A great team uses a loss as a springboard to elevate to the next level. How the Reign respond in Game 2 will say a lot about the makeup of this year’s group.

Best Line is Third Line: Sturm highlighted his third line of Ward, Lee, and Sammy Helenius as his best line Wednesday, as they showcased the kind of effect the big fellas can make in this series. The trio found much success in the prior series against Abbotsford, contributing three goals over the three-game set, and they opened the scoring in this series with their simple, yet, effective play. Sturm emphasized the impact of their strong forechecking and ability to crash the net to finish opportunities.

Andre, the Giant: The 6-foot-5 Lee is imposing his mark on this team and the league with his recent play. Yes, he missed several months of the regular season fighting injury; upon his return, though, he’s been monstrous with four goals in the final eight games of the regular season and four goals over the six games in the postseason. The 23-year-old has found his scoring touch and is now tied with Tyler Madden for the team lead in playoff goals. With a few spots opening up in LA this offseason, his postseason run could turn out to be quite an audition for the young winger – and he’s drawing plenty of attention from Kings management.

Andre Lee postgame…

— The Mayor | Team MM (@mayorNHL) May 16, 2024

Fagemo and the PP: After a bit of a quiet start for both Fagemo and the Reign power play unit, they both ignited against the Firebirds. Fagemo has now scored in two consecutive games, recording a PP marker vs. the Firebirds to spark a comeback attempt early in the third. Ontario’s power play struggled in the past two series, and it’s off to an optimistic 1-for-3 start against Coachella Valley. Sturm said he’d still like to see more shots, direct play, and urgency from his PP group.

Portillo’s Poise: While he allowed three goals on only 15 shots, one was a deflection and another was a screen – something he’d like help from his teammates with. He probably wants the third one back, however, he still provided an effort that likely deserved a win. One thing to keep an eye on is the poise and resolve that a team requires from their goalie to get through the tough moments of a game. The coaching staff has worked on this with the first-year pro, and the way he bounces back in Game 2 will display the progress in this area of his game.

Real Deal Akil: Contributing an assist on the power play goal, Akil Thomas extends his points streak to three games, offering a goal and two assists in that span. The 24-year-old has five points (2G, 3A) in the six playoff games while centering the second line and playing first power play unit.

What to Watch For: While letting Game 1 slip through their hands, the Reign will turn to Friday as a chance to even the series at one game apiece. Some have wondered what it would take to see Franky Pinelli or Martin Chromiak to get the nod to return to regular action. Will Sturm and Co. return with the same lineup in Game 2 or might one of the young skilled players slot in?

The Reign take the ice on Friday, May 18 at 7PM PDT in Coachella Valley and can be viewed on AHLTV.


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