30 saves by goaltender Erik Portillo kept the Tucson Roadrunners (6-4-0) to a single goal Friday night, allowing the Ontario Reign (6-4-1) to earn a 2-1 win on Hockey Fights Cancer night at Toyota Arena.
The Reign goals both came in the second period from Akil Thomas and Jacob Doty. For Thomas, the tally was his first of the season, while Doty picked up his team-leading third game-winning strike of the year.
A scoreless first period was highlighted by a breakaway save from Portillo, who stopped a Jan Jenik rush with his left skate and kept the Roadrunners off the board early. Tucson had the better of the play in the opening frame, out-shooting Ontario 14-5.
But the Reign went in front at 4:08 of the second and never looked back. Thomas knocked a rebound out of the air past Roadrunners’ goaltender Anson Thornton to put Ontario up 1-0, following a shot by Alex Turcotte that had been stopped. Defender Brandt Clarke picked up the second assist on the play, which started with a rush into the offensive zone on a stretch pass from Taylor Ward.
Doty added to the Reign’s advantage three minutes later at 7:36, blasting a shot from inside the blue line off a drop pass by Samuel Helenius. Charles Hudon also factored into the scoring, earning the second assist on the play for his fifth helper of the season.
The Roadrunners made it a one-goal game before the end of the middle period when Dylan Guenther one-timed a cross-ice pass from Josh Doan by Portillo at 14:21.
Tucson was unable to get any closer in the third, with Portillo stopping all eight shots he saw in the final frame. Overall, the Roadrunners held a 31-22 shots-on-goal edge in the contest.
Neither team took advantage of their power play chances in the contest, with Ontario finishing 0-for-7 and Tucson ending at 0-for-4. Thornton turned out 20 of the Reign’s shots in a losing effort.
Postgame thoughts from head coach Marco Sturm, Doty and Thomas are below.
On the difference between tonight’s game and Wednesday’s game
Effort. The guys were involved emotionally and physically. I always tell them it should be a fun game, but if there are no emotions involved, it’s not fun. We saw that last game and it was definitely better today.
On Erik Portillo’s third win
He had some great saves. Every guy is a little different in how they jack themselves up, and he’s very loud. He battled too. He competes very hard and he had a really good game.
On the effort to close out the game
It’s not always easy when you lose a few in a row. We were still up after the second period but it didn’t really feel that way. It took us a little bit in the third and then [our players] realized that maybe if we stay calm and make plays, we will be fine. The second half of the third period was much better. We got better and better on the end and made better plays and better decisions with the puck. I was not worried at all. It was definitely a solid [effort] in the last five minutes.
On Akil Thomas’ performance
His like was good today, and it was by far his best game of the year. By far. He kind of showed it the last couple games when he’s gotten better and better. He plays with a little bit of an edge and a little bit of grit. He deserved a goal today for sure.
On scoring his third goal of the season
All I saw was Sammy [Helenius]. I was hoping he would see me coming in and would leave it for me, and he made a great play. I just decided to hit it hard and see what would happen, and was lucky enough to go in.
On the frequent penalties in tonight’s game
It seems to happen with [Tucson] a lot of the time. They have a few guys that are hard to play against and play really hard. I think we’re ready for that. We’re well suited. If teams want to play like that, go ahead. I think we’re more suited for that this year than we have been in the past, and it’s just the way the game went tonight. It was a pretty physical matchup but like I said, we’re going to keep skating and keep finishing our checks. I think it paid off for us.
On finishing out close games
I think it’s just a mindset to keep doing what we’ve been doing, and we’re going to be fine. We’ve got to get pucks in and get pucks out. We can’t play it safe, but also have to make the right decisions. I think we’re better suited for that kind of stuff this year. Everyone’s a year older. We’ve added some good veteran presence and guys that know how to win those games. I think we’ll see it more going forward. We’re very comfortable with the lead and we’re a hard team to beat.
Ontario is back in action on Sunday afternoon to host the Colorado Eagles at Toyota Arena. The puck is scheduled to drop at 3 p.m.