WHO: Ontario Reign (7-3-1) vs. San Diego Gulls (4-8-0)
WHAT: AHL REGULAR SEASON GAME #12
WHEN: Sunday, November 13 @ 3:00 PM Pacific
WHERE: Toyota Arena – Ontario, CA
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: AHLTV – AUDIO: Mixlr – TWITTER: @ShafReign & @OntarioReign
TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The Ontario Reign close out a stretch of three games in four nights by returning home to face the San Diego Gulls at Toyota Arena on Sunday afternoon. Ontario came up short in their first contest of the season in Bakersfield on Saturday, falling to the Condors 3-1. The Reign swept San Diego last month during a home-and-home series, winning on consecutive nights by scores of 2-1 and 5-1. Ontario is looking to regain sole possession of first place in the Pacific Division, while the Gulls will aim to secure their fifth win of the 2022-23 campaign.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The Reign have enjoyed success at home early this season, winning four of their first five outings in front of their fans while scoring an average of 4.8 goals with 24 total tallies. Conversely, San Diego has had more success on the road than at home, posting a 3-4-0 record and an even goal differential with 27 goals for and 27 goals against. The Gulls have scored the second-most road goals in the AHL. Despite losing three straight, the Reign still rank fourth defensively in the league, allowing an average of 2.55 goals per contest.
LAST TIME OUT: The Bakersfield Condors successfully defended home ice Saturday night, defeating the Ontario Reign by a 3-1 score at Mechanics Bank Arena. The two teams now have identical records after their first 11 games and are tied atop the AHL’s Pacific Division standings, each with 15 points. Quinton Byfield had Ontario’s lone goal in the contest, scoring his first of the season at 11:21 of the second period. Matt Villalta got the start in net for the Reign and stopped 19 Bakersfield shots in a losing effort.
BYFIELD READY TO BREAKOUT: By finding the back of the net in the second period on Saturday, Quinton Byfield scored the 13th goal of his AHL career in 45 total contests. The forward found himself open in the slot and called for the puck before making a deke to his backhand and sweeping the puck around the goaltender and into the net. In just 11 games with the Reign last season, Byfield posted six points on four goals and two assists. The Newmarket, Ont. native has already suited up for 54 career NHL contests during the past three seasons, scoring 14 points on five goals and nine assists.
SCOUTING THE GULLS: San Diego hasn’t had the success they’d hoped for to begin the season, winning only four of their first 12 contests. Most recently, the Gulls were shut out by Bakersfield on Friday by a 2-0 score. Prior to that San Diego was victorious over Henderson in a lopsided fashion, winning 7-0. Forward Rocco Grimaldi leads the Gulls with 13 points in 11 games on four goals and nine assists. Defenseman Nikolas Brouillard, who finished third on the team in scoring a year ago with 39 points, is second on the club with 11 points on three goals and eight assists. Danny O’Regan has also had a hot start, posting 11 points on a goal and 10 assists, and Benoit-Olivier Groulx is tied with Grimaldi for the team lead with four goals. Goaltender Lukas Dostal has played in 10 games already this season, earning all four of the team’s wins. Dostal has a 2.94 goals-against average and a 0.913 save percentage, while the team’s other netminder Olle Eriksson Ek has also appeared in four contests.
VILLALTA AT THE TOP OF HIS GAME: With a shutout of Colorado last Thursday, goaltender Matt Villalta secured his first clean slate since April 24, 2021, when he turned aside 34 shots to blank the Condors in Bakersfield. The Godfrey, Ont. native has been excellent so far this season, winning three of his four starts while allowing just nine total goals to earn a goals-against average of 2.03 and a 0.932 save percentage. His save percentage is third-best in the AHL and goals-against ranks seventh among all netminders. Villalta is also coming off a standout season in 2021-22 when he posted a 28-10-7 record in 46 games with a career-best 2.98 goals-against and a 0.903 save percentage.
TURCOTTE’S RETURN: Forward Alex Turcotte returned to the Reign lineup Thursday night in San Jose, recovering from a head injury that he suffered in May during the postseason. The Island Lake, Ill. native got himself on the scoresheet for the first time this season in his second contest Saturday, posting a second assist on Quinton Byfield’s second period goal. In 61 career AHL games, Turcotte has 40 points on 12 goals and 28 assists along with a plus-15 rating.
HOME SWEET HOME: Ontario started the season by playing five of its first seven games on home ice at Toyota Arena but has since been on the road for four straight. Sunday’s matchup will be the team’s sixth battle in front of their home fans and the Reign are hoping to return to their winning ways after securing victories in four of their five contests. Ontario has scored twice as many goals as they’ve allowed inside its home barn, with a goal differential of 24-12. That plus-12 mark is the best of any team in the AHL. The Reign have also thrived on special teams at home, scoring seven power play goals in those five games for a 36.8% success rate on the man-advantage along with allowing just two tallies while shorthanded and killing 89.5% of opponents’ opportunities.