Powered by four first period goals, the Ontario Reign (23-16-1-1) defeated the visiting Colorado Eagles (25-14-3-0) by a final score of 5-2 on Tuesday night at Toyota Arena to complete the first month of 2023 with an 8-5-1 record from 14 contests.
Matt Villalta got the start for Ontario and stopped a season-high 43 shots while playing in his 100th career AHL game, all of which have been with the Reign. Taylor Ward also had a big night with two goals and an assist, while Aidan Dudas and Jordan Spence each had a goal and an assist in the victory.
More from head coach Marco Sturm, Jordan Spence and Matt Villalta below.
Colorado took an early lead on a goal by Alex Galchenyuk at 1:58 of the first period, but Ontario responded quickly, tying the game up at 1-1 on a power play strike by Spence at 3:54.
Spence’s shot was his second power play goal of the season and third overall of his sophomore pro campaign, coming with assists from Martin Chromiak and TJ Tynan.
Later in the opening frame, Ontario struck three straight times in quick succession to open up a lead. First, Frederic Allard netted his second tally of the season from Spence and Tynan at 12:19 with a wrist shot from the inside of the left circle to make it 2-1.
Then Taylor Ward found the back of the net less than a minute later at 13:13 to push Ontario’s advantage to 3-1 off a centering feed by Alan Quine. Ward’s first of the night also had a second assist from Hank Crone, who registered his first career AHL point in his second appearance for the Reign.
Finally, Dudas camped out at the top of the Eagles’ crease and banged home a rebound off a shot by Ward to extend the score to 4-1 at 15:47 and make it three goals in a span of 3:28. Quine also registered the second assist on Dudas’ ninth goal of 2022-23.
The Eagles controlled play in the second frame, outshooting Ontario by a 12-5 margin, but Villalta turned aside all attempts that were sent his way to keep the Reign in front by three goals at the start of the third.
Colorado did get on the board at 11:39 of the third to come one goal closer on a shot by Nate Clurman that cut Ontario’s lead down to 4-2, but the Eagles were unable to get anything else past Villalta, who totaled 17 saves in the final frame.
An empty-net goal for Ward that was set up by Dudas at 16:15 of the third sealed the win for the Reign, who improved to 4-2-0 in six games against Colorado this season.
The Eagles held a steep 45-22 shots-on-goal advantage in the game but were held off the board on the power play, going 0-for-2. Spence’s first period goal was the lone man-advantage conversion of the night, with Ontario ending at 1-for-2 on the power play.
On tonight’s win
It was a response first, and then we were happy to be up a few goals against a team like that, that has been really hot all season long. That usually doesn’t happen too often, but I give my guys credit. We were probably holding on a little bit too much on that lead but its always dangerous when you you’re up. You don’t play the same way, but somehow we got it done.
On how the team dealt with Colorado’s offensive pressure:
For me, the second period was the key because if they would have scored a goal there, it would have been a different story in the third. Again, somehow we managed it. We also killed a few penalties in the second and I think that also helped us go into the third being more confident and relaxed while trying to finish the right way.
On Spence’s goal
I was happy for him. The last two or three games, he’s been like the old Jordan Spence. He had a little bit of a stretch when he came back from the Kings and it took him a while to get going again, but he’s such a big part of our group and such a good defenseman. Those are the kind of guys you root for because they work so hard and they care, and today it finally went into the net.
On Villalta’s performance in goal
He was outstanding. He was the key for our success today. He was pretty calm in the net and I was really happy, the whole team was really happy because it was his 100th game today. He deserved the win today and he was really good.
On tonight’s game
I think we played really well in the first period. We were in their zone most of the time. That’s why we had a lot of chances and we scored a lot of goals, but the second and third we kind of held back a little bit, so that’s why they capitalized on good chances. Obviously, [Matt Villalta] kept it tight, and that’s why he got the first star tonight. It was a good team win, overall.
On scoring on the power play
For us on the power play, sometimes we struggle a little bit with not shooting pucks as much as we should. Before the game, we just wanted to shoot and capitalize on that. Obviously, when you shoot, there will be chances in front of the net or it will open up some spaces on the other side. For me, they were covering TJ [Tynan] and then I had that lane, so I shot it and it went in. It was good for us to tie it with that goal and kind of get out momentum going after that.
On how the team has played lately
It was unfortunate that we lost some guys to the Kings but we didn’t lose our focus at all. They’re great players getting called up and for us, we just want to be a consistent team [without them]. It’s good for us to kind of build momentum every game and I thought we played really well last game against Calgary. Obviously, there were unfortunate bounces but we took a lot of good things away and brought that against Colorado tonight.
The Reign will be back on the Toyota Arena ice this weekend when they host the Tucson Roadrunners in a two-game series that will take place Friday at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 6 p.m.