Despite multi-point nights for three Ontario Reign (0-2-0) skaters Sunday, the San Diego Gulls (2-0-0) had the last laugh, coming from behind to earn their second straight victory of the weekend at Toyota Arena by a score of 6-4.
Ontario’s offense was highlighted forward Ryan Francis, who scored his first career AHL goal in the first period, as well as forwards Alex Turcotte and Charles Hudon who each had a goal and an assist and a pair of assists from defender Joe Hicketts.
On the other end of the ice, Jacob Perrault had a goal and an assist for the Gulls, scoring for the second consecutive game to open the 2023-24 season.
The Reign took the lead midway through the first on Francis’ goal, which came off a centering feed by Francesco Pinelli, which earned him his first career AHL point in the second contest of his rookie season.
But San Diego tied things up at 1-1 less than five minutes later on a power play goal by Andrew Agozzino and the clubs entered the first intermission in a deadlock.
Turcotte put Ontario back in front with the team’s first power play goal of the new season at 2:31 of the second, scoring on a scramble in front with assists from Hudon and Hicketts.
The Gulls responded once again, however, netting consecutive goals less than three minutes apart from one another by Ben King and Judd Caulfield at 9:07 and 11:25 respectively to take a 3-2 lead.
The game continued to see-saw back and forth with Brandt Clarke tying the contest back up at 3-3 for the Reign at 14:22 of the second with his first goal of the AHL season. Clarke was able to find the back of the net on the power play with an assist from Martin Chromiak.
However, San Diego went back in front just before the second intermission when Perrault scored to cap off a lengthy shift for the Gulls in Ontario’s end at 19:29.
Ontario was never fully able to recover from that deficit, surrendering a breakaway tally to San Diego’s Pavol Regenda at 11:28 before getting one back on a deflection by Hudon at 16:22.
The Gulls tacked on an empty-net strike from Josh Lopina with one second left on the clock to bookend the scoring.
Ontario won the special teams battle in the contest, going 2-for-7 on the power play while successfully killing two of San Diego’s three man-advantages. Calle Clang got the victory in net for the visitors with 35 saves on 39 Reign shots, while David Rittich suffered the loss for Ontario while making 20 saves.
On Sunday’s loss
It was definitely a better game than last game. We were just totally out of it in game one. Game two could’ve gone either way, but at the end of the day, they beat us twice. I still think it was more up to us. There were better things, but still things we’ve never done before, and those are the ones that beat you. I mentioned it last game too, maybe it’s a good thing. Nothing is for free in any league, it doesn’t matter where it is, so it should be a little bit of a wake up call for all of us.
On the power play unit’s improvement
The power play was definitely better today. Samuel Fagemo left [the team], and that left us with a huge hole on that side with his one-timer. Now, we’re still trying to figure out who will be the best fit and what the best formation for success is. It was better today and we scored two big goals, so that’s a good sign.
On what went wrong this weekend
Everyone [on the team] has to realize what they bring to the team. I think we thought it would be easy because we have a better team this year, so some guys might think they’re all set and get away from the things they do well. They’ve got to realize that they need to go back to being a forecheck guy or a skill guy. Whatever it is, they have to do that instead of just play and try to score on every shift, because that’s not going to work. We made too many individual mistakes and we are not a team yet, and as long as we play that way, we will have trouble.
On Ryan Francis’ goal
It was great. He deserved it. That’s why he’s been playing the last two games. He deserved to be in the lineup. He’s been great in all the games he’s played in. He also needs to get used to playing against the big boys now, but I was very happy for him that he scored.
On what the next few days of recovery will look like
I have to watch [the game] back. I have a few things in my mind. I always have to calm down a little bit. You can’t be too emotional after games. I’m going to use today and tomorrow to do that. I’m going to go back and look for our mistakes and we’re going to address those this week. I believe in this group. That’s the most important thing. They believe in each other. We’ve done it, we’ve seen it, so now we’ve just got to go get the next one.
On scoring his first AHL goal in tonight’s loss
I was pretty happy. Unfortunately, it was in a losing effort, but I’m happy to be in the lineup. I worked all camp to get to this point and the first game was alright, so I think I got better. I think the team got a little bit better in the second game too. There’s still a lot of improvement for myself and the team. We’ve got to reset on the off day tomorrow and definitely come back better on Wednesday.
On playing with Pinelli and Helenius
The best part about it is everyone’s good in this league, so it’s not hard to gel with your new linemates. Frankie [Pinelli] is a good skilled player like me, so we feed off each other well. Sammy [Helenius] is a good, big body who plays a good 200-foot game in the middle, and that really helps us out. I’ve enjoyed playing with them these first few games.
On making the team
I just started on a tryout. I wanted to come in every single day and give it everything I had, and I was fortunate enough to be here. Now, I just wanted to take every opportunity I can get and give 120% every single time. I’ve enjoyed it here. It’s a good group and hopefully we can get some wins.
The Reign and Gulls face off for the third consecutive time to open the season on Friday night in San Diego at Pechanga Arena beginning at 7 p.m.