There was a lot to celebrate on Friday night at Toyota Arena as the Ontario Reign (1-0-0) kicked off its 15th Anniversary season with a lopsided 8-2 win over the visiting Abbotsford Canucks (0-1-0). Forward TJ Tynan, who was named team captain earlier in the afternoon, led the way with four points on a goal and three assists, while goaltender Pheonix Copley stopped 29 shots to earn a win in his Reign debut.
Eight different players lit the lamp for Ontario in the victory, including defender Helge Grans, who had both a goal and an assist. Defenseman Jordan Spence also had a big night, earning three assists, two of which came on the power play. The victory was the first for Reign head coach Marco Sturm in his first AHL game behind the bench.
More from Sturm, Tynan and Grans below.
The game kicked into high gear right from the drop of the puck, with the two teams combining for five goals in the first six minutes. Abbotsford opened the scoring at 1:50 of the first when Justin Dowling put a puck past Copley on the power play to give the Canucks an initial 1-0 edge.
Ontario tied things up quickly thereafter when Taylor Ward took a drop pass from Alan Quine and blasted a shot by goaltender Collin Delia. After another Abbotsford strike by Arshdeep Bains less than a minute later, the Reign evened the game again on a power play goal by Samuel Fagemo off a cross-ice feed by Tynan.
Grans put Ontario in front for the first time at 6:08, using a shot from the right point that got through a screen and into the net. Assists on the tally went to forwards Nate Thompson and Jacob Doty. Once the Reign were in front, they never looked back.
Ontario opened things up in the second with goals by Lias Andersson, Tynan and Tobias Bjornfot while posting 19 shots on net. After 40 minutes, it was a 6-2 game and the home crowd was enjoying the offensive onslaught.
Akil Thomas added the Reign’s third power play goal of the night at 14:06 of the third and Aidan Dudas tacked on the exclamation point in the final minute of the game from Thomas and Austin Wagner. In total, 13 Ontario skaters registered a point in the victory.
Despite allowing the early power play goal, the Reign successfully killed their other two shorthanded situations, holding the Canucks to 1-for-3 on the man-advantage while finishing 3-for-6 on their own opportunities.
Delia was replaced after the seventh Ontario goal, finishing with 36 saves on 43 shots on goal. Arturs Silovs allowed the final tally in relief, playing 5:54 at the end of the game.
The Reign are back in action at Toyota Arena on Sunday afternoon when they host the Bakersfield Condors in game two of their 2022-23 season at 5 p.m. PST.
On earning his first win as Ontario’s head coach
It always feels good after a big win. I think we didn’t [feel good] at the start. We were up 3-2 five minutes in but it was much too open. It’s the first game, I know everyone was excited and everyone wanted to get going, but after that we decided to gamble and started to play to our identity and came up with big goals. Overall, it was a big team effort today. Even after bad, ugly hits, guys stepped up. Even skilled guys like Lias [Andersson] and [Jacob Moverare]. It was good to see.
On correcting mistakes from preseason and cashing in on the power play
It always helps when you get the guys back, especially the first unit. They know each other really well, so they know where to be and they support each other really well. They’re threats all over the place. It starts on the point with Spence, and then goes down to the flank. Kupari was a nice addition in the middle. There were lots of good things with the other units as well. Special teams will be very important down the stretch because there will be a lot of penalties to kill as well.
On naming Tynan as team captain
I think he’s our best player, and on a lot of teams, the best players are captain. That’s why we named him captain, but we believe in him too. I think he also has to grow and learn how to be a captain as well. He’s up for the challenge. He’s working on it every day, and that’s what we like. He showed it today. The guys love him. He brings a lot to the team and the guys will stick up for him.
On Copley’s debut for the Reign
He’s really good. He’s a good goalie but an even better person. His work ethic is one of the best I’ve seen from a goalie and I know the guys like him. He played big tonight. He stopped a few breakaways at the right time, and that’s what we need. I think every team wants a good goalie and I think we have one with him and Matthew Villalta. It was nice to see him with a big one tonight.
On Bjornfot’s highlight reel goal
I was surprised today too. Playing in the NHL, he probably wouldn’t try that move. It might work, yes, but if it doesn’t, then you’re probably in the doghouse. But here it was good for him. He tried it and ended up with a really nice highlight goal. When you play defense, everything is quick, so he doesn’t have that many touches in a game. It was nice to see him makes some plays and score that goal. Overall, I think he played really well. He was just a very good presence on the ice. All of those guys, especially the NHL guys, make a big difference.
On tonight’s Opening Night win
Honestly, I don’t think we started very well. I think we found our game as it went on and obviously we have a lot of talent in that room. It was kind of a sloppy night but we’ll get better. We’ll take 8 goals, obviously, and the two points, so we’ll keep going from there.
On his debut as the team’s new captain
It was great. Obviously the most important thing is winning and that’s what we did. Brett Sutter was here for a long time. Those are big shoes that I’ll probably never fill. He was an amazing player, person, and teammate. He’s the best ever. For me, it’s just about being myself. I’ve got a lot of support in that room with the older guys and younger guys. We have a tight-knit group. It’s obviously an honor but the two points are what matters, and that’s what we got tonight.
On having Sturm as head coach
It’s been a treat. He’s been awesome. Every day, you’re going to work. He’s been there and he’s done it, so he knows. He’s somebody that you can pick his brain. He’s a good teacher and as players, that’s what you want. You want honest, you want to learn, and that’s what we’re going to do this year. We’re going to get better each day and that’s something everyone’s excited to see.
On having Spence back on the power play
You’re not going to find me complaining, right? He’s unbelievable. You can see it. I think everyone in the building can see it. I just think he’s incredible. Obviously, its nice. Last year, guys stepped up when he wasn’t here, but having him back tonight, he showed what an incredible talent he is.
On playing with Andersson and Fagemo
They make it easy, right? They’re amazing players and its good to see them get on the board early. For me, it’s just about using my skill set to try to get them pucks where they’re comfortable and where they like it. You get Lias the puck around the net and good things are going to happen. I actually missed Sammy a couple of times today, but if you can get him some pucks, he’s got a heck of a shot. We were okay tonight, obviously we scored a couple goals, but hopefully we get better and better each day.