The Ontario Reign (32-26-4-1) returned home and got some revenge on the Abbotsford Canucks (35-23-2-4) Friday night, ending a 3-game skid to their rivals from up north with a 4-1 victory at Toyota Arena.
Cal Petersen led the way in net with 26 saves, while Andre Lee posted a goal and an assist and Cameron Gaunce added insurance in the third with his first goal of the season.
With the victory, Ontario reduced its magic number to clinch a spot in the 2023 Calder Cup Playoffs to eight points. The Reign currently hold fifth place in the Pacific Division standings.
The Canucks had multiple high-end chances in the early part of the opening frame but saw shots from Matt Alfaro and Marc Gatcomb clang off the crossbar and stay out of the net.
Nate Schnarr opened the scoring for Ontario at 16:11 of the first, netting his first goal with Ontario with a wrist shot through a screen that went to the top left corner of the net. Assists on the play went to Jacob Moverare as well as Tobias Bjornfot, who has now posted points in three straight contests. The tally also set off a stretch of offense, with a total of three goals that were scored in 1:02 of action.
Eight seconds after Schnarr’s strike, the Canucks tied the game with a bounce in their direction. As Petersen came out to play the puck behind the net, it skipped off the boards, over the net and settled in the crease where Chase Wouters knocked it in to even the score at 1-1.
Ontario took the lead right back, however, as Alex Turcotte fed the puck through three Canucks in front of the net to an open Samuel Fagemo who scored his 21st goal of the season to make it 2-1 Reign. Moverare also recorded a helper on the play for his second assist of the evening.
After the teams skated through a penalty-free first period, the middle frame featured 14 minutes of infractions. But neither club was able to capitalize with more room on the ice and the game remained 2-1 as the action headed to the third.
Gaunce broke through at 3:13 of the third for his first of the season to add on and extend the Reign lead to 3-1. With the puck behind the net, Gaunce crept into the slot and Lee hit him with a perfect pass for a finish past goaltender Arturs Silovs. Tyrell Goulbourne also earned an assist on the goal, his second helper of the season.
With Aidan Dudas in the penalty box for slashing and four minutes to play in regulation, Abbotsford took a chance by pulling Silovs for an extra attacker and a two-man advantage. But almost immediately after the goaltender got to the bench, Tobie Bisson got the puck to Lee, who hit the open net for his 6th of the season to seal the win for Ontario.
Abbotsford outshot the Reign 27-23 in the contest, with Silovs stopping 19 of Ontario’s attempts in a losing effort. Both clubs came up empty on the power play with the Canucks going 0-for-3 and the Reign ending at 0-for-4.
On the team committing to a defensive mentality
That’s something we’ve talked about for a while, but we just didn’t do it. We changed a few things. That was in between games in Tucson and that’s why we won that second game. We had everyone commit to it. That was the biggest thing and now the guys can see it. With the way you defend, you can still get offense out of it. Sometimes you think you won’t but you do, and it’s definitely more fun playing that way.
On Andre Lee’s progression
He’s one of the most improved guys on this hockey team. I didn’t know him [before this season]. He had the size and everything but it took him a while to get going. I give him credit. He plugged away and accepted his role and knew exactly what to do. He had gotten scratched too, so he really came out of nowhere and right now he’s been one of our most improved forwards, and he shows it. I played that fourth line today against their top line, and they shut them down. Good for them.
On Alex Turcotte’s two games since returning from injury
We talked about what the turning point was, and he’s one of the reasons. He just brings a lot to our team with his energy and just the way he plays. He’s having a rough year with the injuries, but again, every time he’s come back he’s battled really hard, and that’s what we need. That’s what we need from him and our team. We need guys like that. I think he’s been good every time he’s played all year. He’s been really good. He’s going to bring the other guys on his line along with him, and that’s how you build chemistry.
On Cameron Gaunce’s goal and impact
I just told our coaches that I think that was the best game I’ve seen from Gauncer. I’ve only been here one year. Today, it’s not just that he scored, but he took charge every time he was out there. He was a leader and that’s what we need from him. So I’m very happy for him.
On the impact of players returning to the lineup
I’d be remised not to talk about Turcotte’s impact in our lineup. He’s kind of the straw that stirs the drink because of what he brings to the game. He’s able to skate with anyone in the league. He’s got a tenacious attitude about him. I think he just brings an element that we might have been missing. On top of that, you add in the fact that Bisson came back, who brings us more stability. He’s a hard player to play against.
On the team’s recent defensive efforts
The coaching staff made a made a point to show us the things that we were missing from our game, and we just essentially decided that we need to defend first. We really needed to implement that and do a better job of that. There’s times where we sat back a bit too much, but it’s working for us now. We went back into the 1-3-1 a bit more than we wanted to earlier in the year. Right now, with the way that we’re playing, we’re fine doing that.
On scoring his first goal of the season
It meant a lot. There’s nine games left after today and with zero [goals] on the board, you start to think about it. It’s not like I’m being put in a lot of offensive situations this year, and there’s reason for that with my role this year. Last year I was playing with Jordan Spence and playing in more offensive opportunities. This year, its not so much about my offense. I’ve got a different role, so although you want to really marry yourself to that role and be as on-point as you can, it’s still nice to score. When you see a zero on the board, it’s tough. To get that one, it does feel really nice.
The Reign and Canucks go head-to-head again on Sunday afternoon at Toyota Arena beginning at 3 p.m.