Jacob Doty and Rasmus Kupari each netted a goal and an assist and goaltender Matt Villalta stopped 33 shots as the Ontario Reign (4-1-0) defeated the San Diego Gulls (1-3-0) by a 5-1 score Saturday night at Toyota Arena to claim a sweep of their most heated rival in a home-and-home series this weekend.
Ontario also got goals from Austin Wagner, Aidan Dudas and Samuel Fagemo in the victory, while Jordan Spence collected two primary assists. After their first five games of the season, the Reign have earned eight points and lead the Pacific Division standings.
More from head coach Marco Sturm and Doty below.
After the two teams played an even game in San Diego on Friday, it looked as if things might go the same way tonight. Both clubs scored in the opening frame, while shots favored the Gulls by just a single attempt at 11-10 after 20 minutes.
The San Diego strike came first when Brayden Tracey stole a puck deep in the Ontario end and wrapped it into the net at 3:26. But the Reign responded five minutes later to tie things up when Wagner went to work on a loose puck at the side of the Gulls net, eventually banking it off of goaltender Olle Eriksson Ek and past the goal line.
The turning point in the game came early in the second period when San Diego’s Blake McLaughlin used his skate to direct the puck into the net on a chance at the side of the net. While the play was initially ruled a goal on the ice, it was later reversed to no goal after a video review with the officials declaring it was kicked into the net.
About a minute later, a shot from Spence from the center point missed the Gulls’ cage, but Kupari immediately secured the rebound on a fortuitous bounce off the end boards and stashed it into the net to give the Reign a 2-1 lead.
Ontario never looked back and added to its advantage halfway through the second when Doty stole a puck away from McLaughlin and then used a backhand shot to beat Eriksson Ek and make it a 3-1 game. Doty, who recorded an assist on Wagner’s first period tally, has now equaled his point total from all of last year with three points in the first five games to begin his season.
Less than a minute after Doty’s goal, blueliner Tobie Bisson created a chance in the offensive end and then slipped a feed to Dudas for another strike that extended the lead to 4-1. Dudas’ second goal in as many nights also had a second assist from defender Helge Grans.
Ontario clamped down defensively in the third and kept San Diego’s chances to a minimum. While on a power play with seven minutes remaining, the Gulls pulled Eriksson Ek in exchange for an extra attacker but couldn’t convert on the 6-on-4 situation. Then after Glenn Gawdin was whistled for tripping, Spence fed Fagemo for a one-time strike that closed out the scoring. Kupari also picked up an assist on the power play tally.
Villalta improved his record to 2-0-0 this season, shutting the door by stopping the final 32 shots that came his way during a 56-minute span after allowing the opening goal.
Fagemo’s insurance goal was the lone power play strike of the night, with Ontario finishing 1-for-2 on the man-advantage while holding San Diego off the board with a perfect 4-for-4 penalty kill. Shots on net for the game favored the Gulls by a 34-32 mark.
The Reign travel to San Jose to face the Barracuda on Wednesday night at Tech CU Arena beginning at 7 p.m. and then return home to Ontario next Saturday to face Bakersfield at Toyota Arena at 6 p.m.
On his how the team responded from the early deficit
I think you could tell that both teams were not really sharp [at the beginning]. I think the game yesterday took a lot of energy out of both teams. They had the better start in the first period, but after that, I think we played pretty solid. Our goal is to play 60 minutes. It was nice to see how we responded. We want to put a team like that beside us right away. Hopefully we’ve learned a lesson and now we’re going to move on.
On Matt Villalta’s performance in net
He was really solid. He controlled a lot of rebounds and other stuff because they go to the net really hard. I thought Matty was really good today. Two big games and we got two big goaltending [performances] our of those two games. That was one of the big reasons why we won those two games.
On getting contributions from the entire lineup
Right now, everyone is contributing something and that’s what we need. I think if you look at our lineup, that’s where we are right now. We have to tighten up a few things and we did a little bit better job today, but there’s still work to do. We know that we still have to play better, but playing back-to-back against San Diego is not easy, especially to go there for their home opener. Tight games like yesterday are not easy, so we’re glad we came home with four points.
On beating San Diego in consecutive games
It’s nice. We play those guys a lot. I don’t know how many off the top of my head, but it’s a lot, and I can tell you that. Anytime you can take four of four from them, it’s a good feeling. Especially, a nice one on the road last night and this one was obviously a little more open for us, and we’ll take that. It was a good team win.
On his individual effort goal
Their guy tried to come off the wall and beat me to the middle and I was lucky enough to get a stick on it. I had a step and went to the backhand and made a move. I was actually trying to go five hole but got hooked a little bit. It ended up going off the post and in, but don’t ask how, right?
On contributing more to the offense early in the season
It’s always nice to contribute, but that’s not necessarily my gig and I understand that. I have no issues with what I do. Obviously its nice to chip in, but I’m not going to change my game. It’s been going well, but we’ll see what happens.
On deciding to re-sign and stay in California during the summer
Back in Montana, there’s no permanent ice where I live until September 1. That’s a huge disadvantage for a professional hockey player. The decision for my family and I to stay in LA and train and workout was awesome, and it seems to be paying off. I feel really good. I had a great summer and I’ve just got to keep it going.