One last practice today for Ontario before they take on the Texas Stars tomorrow evening. The Reign have had just 1 game in an 11 day stretch, dating back to early last week, and will now play twice in three days, beginning with Texas tomorrow evening.
When asked where the Reign look to improve heading into the weekend, forward Matt Luff was direct, yet precise on what the team needs to do better.
“I think the focus is just on how we start, attention to detail,” he said. “We’ve come out slow a lot of times in the first period and we want to be a team that establishes ourselves at home, be a team that’s hard to play against right off the start. Pucks in deep, finish off checks and I don’t think we’ve done that really well. We’ve had a good battle week this week and it’s time to turn the page and get on the right foot. We battled through it last year and I think we can get through it again and be that dominant team that’s going to be in the playoffs again.”
The Reign certainly will look to get off to a better start to the game than they have in games past. In their last outing against Tucson, Ontario spotted their opponents a three-goal cushion before the game was even six minutes old. While the Reign have came from behind this season – they overturned a three-goal deficit in their lone win of the season – consistently playing out of an early hole isn’t exactly the standard recipe for success.
“To me, that’s a mental thing,” Head Coach Mike Stothers said after today’s practice. “You’ve got to be ready to play and it’s up to you to get yourself ready at the opening puck drop. We spend all week going through what we want to do, what to expect from our opponents, what we want to do systems-wise. Again, it’s a matter of getting yourself ready to meet that challenge when the puck drops, not six minutes into the game when you’re already trailing by two…I’d like to see what this team can play like with a lead. Score the first goal, score the first couple and see what that’s like to play with.”
Speaking of Luff – His play through eight Ontario games (seven played by Luff) has been a bright spot statistically to start the campaign. When talking about the 21-year-old winger, Stothers wants to see Luff be the “best player on the ice” every night.
“He had a plus-3 night the other night in an 8-5 loss and when you look at some of our plus-minuses, that’s an outstanding evening, but I just know how good Luffer can be, and I want him to be a difference maker in every game,” Stothers said. “I want him to be the best player on the ice. On some nights he has been and on some nights he hasn’t been. I really feel for him, being in his second year with what he brings to the table, if he wants to fast-track himself to the NHL, he should be a difference maker. He should be the best guy on the ice.”
Luff led the Reign with two goals and an assist, as well as the +3 rating, on Friday and has now amassed nine points (4-5-9) from seven games played this season, tying him for the team lead in both goals and points, as well as placing second with 1.29 points-per-game. Coming off of a strong rookie season, which saw him post 29 points as a 20-year old in the AHL, Luff has seized an opportunity to become one of the go-to players in his second season as a pro.
“It’s been a major jump with my confidence [from Year 1 to Year 2], just in how I come into games,” he said. “I’m not nervous and if I make the wrong play, I know I can get it back just by attacking the puck and just by being in the right spots. Using [the Ontario coaching staff], going in after games and doing video with them, seeing where I can improve because I’m still one of the youngest guys on the team. Using my resources, talking with Sutts and Mouly – I live with Mouly, so talking with him after some nights when it was a tough game, he’s a good guy to talk to because he’s been there obviously, so I think I’ve made major strides, which is nice.”
Luff was quick to credit others for his successes, especially with his growth from a rookie to a second-year player – He praised the Reign’s leadership group, especially Brett Sutter and Matt Moulson, who, along with Sam Herr, he said could be one of the top leadership groups in the American Hockey League. Luff was also quick to point out that while he is a second-year player, he’s still one of the youngest guys on the team – While the Reign have eight rookies on their roster, Luff is younger than six of them.
When asked about his individual play, Luff shifted the focus away from himself and onto the players he’s played alongside thus far in this young season, while also noting that while the team isn’t winning, it’s difficult to be happy with personal successes.
“I mean, I’ve had a good line so far, have played with some different guys but worked with a bunch of them last year, Philly, Mouls, Sutts, so I think reading off of them from last year is huge,” he said. “It’s tough to be happy with how you’re playing when we’re struggling, because at the end of the day, because you want to be a team that goes far.”
While Luff deflected the focus off of himself as an individual, people within the Kings organization are taking notice. When asked about the Reign last week, Kings General Manager Rob Blake called Luff “a very good player down there,” mentioning him alongside Sheldon Rempal and Sean Walker, who have both earned NHL callups this season.
LA Head Coach John Stevens also took notice of Luff’s play during the preseason.
“There were a couple guys that I thought really stepped up and played like they wanted to show you what they could do,” Stevens said after the Kings game against Anaheim on September 26. “I thought Wags was one of them, I thought Luffer was another one. I thought those two kids did some good things tonight”
Luff has spent the past week practicing on the top forward trio with Mike Amadio and Matt Moulson – Stothers noted that “you’re not going to find two better playmakers or too many better passers in the American Hockey League than Matt Moulson and Mike Amadio.” He also mentioned that putting a finisher like Luff alongside those two should benefit all three players.
– On the goaltending front – Stothers said that goaltender Cole Kehler is injured in Manchester, which made him unavailable to be reassigned to Ontario when Peter Budaj’s spot opened up, due to his own recall to Los Angeles.
“He’s a little banged up right now. Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t available to fill that role but those things happen too.”
As covered earlier this week, Ontario added goaltender Evan Buitenhuis on a PTO, who should backup Cal Petersen tomorrow.
– My last question today was with regards to today’s roster moves and if we can expect to see any more in advance of tomorrow’s game. The quote, delivered with a classic Mike Stothers smirk –
“I would continue to only use dry-erase markers and pencils. And keep lots of erasers handy.”
And Lastly – Happy Halloween from the Reign!
Ever wondered what the #Reign players dressed up as when they were younger? A Power Ranger, a mummy or……..grapes?
Find out here! pic.twitter.com/3pUzvMs639
— Ontario Reign (@ontarioreign) October 31, 2018