The 2022-23 season has come to an end for the Ontario Reign. After finishing in sixth place in the AHL’s Pacific Division with a record of 34-32-5-1 and 74 points, the team was eliminated in two games by the Colorado Eagles in the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs last week, losing back-to-back contests in a span of three days by scores of 3-2 and 6-4.
Before we close the book on the year and turn the page to the upcoming 2023-24 campaign, we had a chance to speak with many members of the group after they went through exit physicals and meetings with team personnel.
Expectedly, each player expressed regret that the season had come to an end so quickly, and most looked back at their struggle during March, a month that saw the club manage a 3-10-1 record, as the point where things started to drift off course.
Prior to that, from October through February, Ontario had a record of 30-18-3-1 from the first 52 games of the season, a mark that had them in third place in the standings. But the stretch run put them behind the eight-ball and although the Reign played Colorado close in each of the two postseason contests, it wasn’t enough to move forward.
Below hear thoughts from TJ Tynan, Lias Andersson, Cameron Gaunce and Samuel Fagemo as they prepare to begin their respective off-seasons.
TJ Tynan, forward, team captain
On his reflections from the season
There were a lot of up and downs. I mean obviously we were pretty streaky as a team so it’s frustrating when you lose as early as we did but I was proud of the guys for dealing with the adversity, a lot of guys going up and down, a lot of injuries, so for the guys to keep working and never give up and keep fighting, I was proud of that. But we were pretty inconsistent which is tough and we had an early exit but we had a great group of guys so it was still a lot of fun.
On the way the team played in the playoffs
Especially that first game, that Wednesday night overtime loss, I thought we played good enough to win that game for sure and it was frustrating to have a couple bounces that didn’t go our way but that’s playoff hockey, that’s the nature of the beast with these shortened series now so that’s the way it goes but I was proud of the guys for playing two pretty good games, especially with how inconsistent we’ve been and all the adversity we’ve been through so it was good to see that.
On being one of two players to play in all the team’s 74 games along with Aidan Dudas
That’s important. I mean, you always want to be available for your team and try to help your team win and that’s being on the ice. I did it once earlier in my career and I told Dudas how proud of him I was and it’s a tough thing because he was banged up at some points this year and he never came out of the lineup even though he probably easily could’ve and yeah it’s just one of those things where I was really proud of him for doing that for sure.
Lias Andersson, forward, alternate captain
On the level of consistency he was able to have for the group this season
Yeah, I thought I did a decent job of being consistent, but I’m the type of person that always wants to get more, so I’m obviously not happy with how the season ended with us losing in two games and I thought I could’ve brought even more and I’m never satisfied especially when we lose like that. In a few weeks, I’m probably going to look back and be proud of myself, that I could stay healthy and score some goals and be a leader on the team, but I’m never satisfied and I always want more.
His thoughts on what the team could have done better down the stretch
In those two playoff games, I think we did everything right; I think we played arguably our best two games of the year. And you know, we should’ve started that a little earlier. We didn’t have really good momentum coming into the playoffs, that’s a key factor too, feeling good coming in, be confident, be cocky coming into some big games so we could’ve done that better for sure. We lost a lot of games at the end of the year, our confidence wasn’t really good, so if I could change something, play with that swagger a little earlier in the year. We were just so focused and so structured in those two playoff games and I’m proud of that and hopefully next year, the guys that are here can take that with them, those last two games and hopefully start to play like that.
On what it was like playing with Tynan for most of the season
It was awesome. I love TJ, he’s a great teammate and a great hockey player, a great friend. He competes super hard every day in practice and games. He’s just like me, he gets frustrated when it doesn’t go his way and he has super high expectations on his teammates, so that’s an environment I really like. I think he did a really good job as a captain, holding everyone accountable and it’s hard to not compete when the captain competes like that every day. He’s a great teammate and a great player and hopefully, I get to play some games with him here in the future.
On how close the team was off the ice all season
It was a really close group. It’s one of the closest I’ve been a part of, actually. It was a great group and we had so much fun off the ice. I thought we had something going there in the playoffs that’s why it stings a little extra when you lose with a group like this, but hopefully, a lot of guys are sticking around for next year and we can repeat it because I think there’s more to come for all the guys in there.
Cameron Gaunce, defenseman, alternate captain
On the team never reaching their falling short of their potential at the end of the season
Yeah, it was something right from the start that we knew was going to be a bit of an adventure, if you will, just from the group we had, the group that was leaving from last year, a new head coach. It was going to be a puzzle we had to try to put together and unfortunately, we were unable to get it together before the season ended. I thought there were times where we showed what we could look like. Unfortunately, it just didn’t happen as often as it should have.
On how much the short playoff run will help some of the younger players who got that experience
It shouldn’t be very beneficial. Again, I think Todd [McLellan] has said it over and over, experience is only useful if you take something from it. So I hope that they do because the way we played, the way they played, the atmosphere, how we handled ourselves in the dressing room before and after games, it’s something that players should be taking away from it. I hope they do, and there was enough there to build on I think.
On what it’s been like being a leader in the room with so many young players around
It’s been a learning experience for me as well because when you come to a new organization, you’re never sure how the dynamic is going to work. Some organizations have different priorities than others. And this one, it was really based upon really trying to be a leader. They really wanted me to emphasize or basically be myself in every situation and really focus on helping others. With a lot of these young kids coming from different scenarios, different upbringings, each of them kind of had different views on themselves on the game, on what they want from it and learning from each of them, I think I was able to learn as well. How to deal with them, what makes them tick, what makes kids of that age group excel and what their motivations are. So things like that I think I was able to learn quite a bit but also you start to notice a trend in the kind of players and the people that this organization tries to draft.
On how Marco Sturm came in and ran the team with his experience in pro hockey
Marco is someone who clearly has been around the pro game for a long time. He’s someone who you can also tell was a very good player because he understands things and it might not be as easy for him to explain why players should be doing the things they do because he was able to do them for his whole career. So when he comes to the American Hockey League for the first time and players aren’t able to do the things on a consistent basis that he was able to do, it might get frustrating at times. But what Marco brings also is a professionalism that few coaches have had. He’s able to bring it day after day after day, just how he carries himself. He’s always prepared. He’s someone who there’s never going to be a new scenario that he hasn’t seen before. So I think Marco brought a professionalism to our group that I think a lot of guys needed.
Samuel Fagemo, third-year forward
On what it’s like knowing that the season is over and it was an early ending
I think it sucks, obviously. We think we had a good team with a good team spirit so it just sucks that the season has ended so early.
His reflections on the season and his role during the year
I think it was a fun season. I think I was alright, I think I can do a little bit of a better job 5-on-5 sometimes but the power play was good, I kept on shooting the puck so I think I’m happy but I think I can do better as well.
On what the difference was between this year’s team and last year’s when they had more success
I think the biggest thing is that we were not consistent enough. I think that was a teaching thing for us this year and for us to think about next year just to stay more consistent each game. I think it’s a lot of games, but I think that’s important to stay focused and consistent all year.
On what he learned from his call-ups to the NHL with the Kings
I think that was super fun to get more games this year. That’s my dream, to play there full-time someday. I just got to keep working and it’s the same thing there, to stay more consistent in the system. But it was super fun to play some games there this year for sure.
On having Erik Portillo join the organization, someone who has been his longtime teammate
Yeah, it’s been super special. I played with Eric for five years and he’s like my best buddy. It’s super special to have him here and I am really happy for that. I’m just trying to help him out a little bit, show him different spots, a couple of dinner places and stuff and then we’re going to see each other again in Sweden [this summer]. It’s super fun to have him here, it’s like a dream come through because we have spent so much time together in Sweden so it’s special here too.
We’ll continue to have more coverage throughout the summer here on LAKI of the Ontario Reign as the team’s roster for next season takes shape, as well as the Kings’ prospects who are working for a chance to make the NHL in the future!