The Ontario Reign (1-2-0) held off the San Diego Gulls (2-1-0) at Pechanga Arena on Friday night by a score of 3-2 to earn their first win of the 2023-24 season and return the favor of spoiling a rival’s home opener. A week ago, the Gulls opened the season with a win in Ontario at Toyota Arena.
David Rittich stopped 31 San Diego shots to earn his first win as a member of the Reign and Ontario’s offense was boosted in the victory by goals from Taylor Ward, Martin Chromiak and TJ Tynan. The Reign scored all three of their tallies with an extra man on the ice, including two power play goals and another strike during a delayed penalty to the Gulls.
Despite a lively first period, neither side was able to break through in the opening frame, which featured a heavyweight bout between Ontario’s Jacob Doty and San Diego’s Travis Howe. The Reign held a 12-10 shots-on-goal advantage after the first 20 minutes.
Ward broke through for Ontario at 2:11 of the second, scoring his first of the season with one second remaining in the Reign’s first power play opportunity of the contest which came with an assist by Mikhail Maltsev.
The Gulls evened things up just 3:07 later, however, when Olen Zellweger wristed a shot past Rittich to record a power play strike of his own as his first professional goal and tie the game at 1-1.
Chromiak put Ontario back in front with his first goal of the year at 17:18 of the second, one-timing a feed by Charles Hudon past goaltender Alex Stalock to make it 2-1 during a delayed penalty to San Diego.
The Reign extended their lead to 3-1 at 4:54 of the third when Tynan slapped home a shot from the inside of the right circle that froze Stalock during a power play advantage. Assists on the strike were credited to Brandt Clarke as well as Akil Thomas.
But the Gulls didn’t go quietly. The home team cut it back to a one-goal game at 7:11 of the third when Pavol Regenda scored shorthanded for his fourth goal in the first three games of the season.
San Diego continued its momentum, earning a power play after an interference call on Reign defender Kevin Connauton. Ontario’s penalty kill responded and did the job, buckling down to keep the Gulls off the board on their man-advantage.
The Reign also needed its penalty kill to come through in the final minutes after Hayden Hodgson was called for tripping at 18:31, while the Gulls already had Stalock at the bench. San Diego finished the game with a 6-on-4 opportunity but was unable to produce a third goal and came up short for the first time this season.
Ontario finished 2-for-5 on the power play, netting multiple man-advantage goals for the second straight game while holding the Gulls to a 1-for-4 effort on special teams. Stalock finished with 29 saves in a losing effort for the home team.
On earning the team’s first win of the season
It’s fun when you win. It was good, and obviously, it was their home opener, so it wasn’t easy. It was a good crowd, I thought the best opposing crowd I’ve seen since I’ve been with the Reign, but hats off to my guys. They stuck with it, and maybe made it a little too interesting at the end, but they got the job done.
On taking the last week to make improvements
Forget about game one. Game one was bad. In game two, we actually didn’t play that bad. It was just really bad mistakes that cost us and it was not the team I know. I know how they can play and we all regrouped, had a good day off, and had probably one of the best weeks since I’ve been here. These guys worked really hard and we worked on a few things we wanted to get better at. They showed it today. One of the things [we worked on] was team toughness, and it’s not just about fighting. It’s not about [Jacob] Doty getting in a fight. It’s about sticking together as a team and that’s what they did today.
On the play of Chromiak and his goal
He’s growing too. We all want him to take the next step and right now he’s doing really well. We lost a really good player in Samuel Fagemo, someone on that side who’s a righty with a good one-timer. We missed that. We’re working with Chromie on his show and that’s why I was really happy for him today. He has that quick little wrist shot from that left side. I think he definitely feels more comfortable with the system.
On David Rittich’s performance
You need a big goalie who makes big saves in the right moments and gave us that today. Overall, it was not an easy preseason for him, maybe only playing a period [per game] and that’s it. Even in practices, practicing with three goalies is definitely different for him. He’s still not there yet, but he’s showing that he’s an unbelievable goalie for us. Today, he made some big saves and that’s why we decided to put him in there. He gave us the best chance to win today.
On the quick turnaround to tomorrow’s game in Bakersfield
I think it’s time to play a different team. Nothing against San Diego. They’re playing great right now, but it’s nice to see a different rink and play a different opponent. [Bakersfield] is playing really well. They didn’t play today so they’re going to be ready. I think it’s their home opener too, so it’s not going to get easy. For today, we’re just happy that we added two points and we’re going to focus tomorrow on the next game.
On recovering this week and preparing for tonight
We talked a lot after the last two games we played at home. We made some changes and had a really good week. We’ve worked hard and I think it’s kind of paid off for us. It was a good week and we deserved to win. For me, this week [was spent] still trying to figure out the league. I haven’t been in this league for a long time. It’s a little bit different, but I think we all took a great step forward. I’m really happy for every guy in the locker room.
On the atmosphere and spoiling the Gulls’ home openers
It was great. The fans were really good, I’ve got to give it to them. The smoke conditions on the ice weren’t really good. Whenever they’d clear the zone, it was a disaster trying to find the puck. Overall, it was our mission to win the game and we did, so it’s a good two points for us and we’ve got to keep building on that.
On the Gulls’ late offensive push
They were down by one goal, so that’s what you can expect. I think we did a great job, even on the penalty kill at the end. Our killers were fantastic.
The Reign continue their weekend in Bakersfield for a matchup with the Condors on Saturday night at 7 p.m. inside Mechanics Bank Arena.