3/27 REIGN FINAL – Reign 3, Barracuda 2 – Sturm, Hudon

The Ontario Reign (35-21-3-4) successfully climbed out of a first period two-goal deficit with two strikes in the second before Taylor Ward scored the lone goal of the third to give them a 3-2 win over the San Jose Barracuda (20-31-9-2) on Wednesday night at Tech CU Arena. The win, combined with a loss for San Diego to Bakersfield, officially clinched the team a spot in the 2024 Calder Cup Playoffs.

Charles Hudon, who returned to the lineup after missing four games with an injury, led the way for Ontario on the offensive end with a goal and an assist, while Akil Thomas scored for the fourth straight game and Aaron Dell stopped 34 shots to earn a win against his former team.


With their fourth straight win, Ontario moved into a tie for second place in the Pacific Division standings with Tucson, each with 77 points to their name. The Reign also improved to 7-0-0 against San Jose during the 2023-24 season.

The Barracuda jumped in front just 15 seconds into the first, taking the initial lead on a Brandon Coe wrist shot that went off the bar and in past Dell.

Nathan Todd added to the San Jose lead at 13:04 of the opening period when he took a pass from Cole Cassels behind the net and slipped the puck past Dell to give the Cuda a 2-0 advantage.

Thomas got the Reign back within one at 6:44 of the second, wristing a shot past goaltender Magnus Chrona for his fifth goal in Ontario’s last four contests. Tyler Madden started the play with a stretch pass to Hudon, who then dropped the puck off to Thomas in the offensive zone for the look at the net. Madden’s assist also gave him points in four straight games.

After Thomas’ goal, Ontario took back-to-back minor penalties that gave the Barracuda a 5-on-3 power play opportunity for 1:15. The Reign were able to successfully kill off the advantage and remain within a goal of San Jose.

Later in the frame, Hudon netted his 20th goal of the year at 18:53 with six seconds left on Ontario’s first power play of the contest. The forward took a pass from TJ Tynan and blasted the puck up high over Chrona and underneath the crossbar to even the game at 2-2.

The assist was Tynan’s 48th of the season, which leads all AHL skaters.

Ward netted the lone goal of the third period with just 3:38 left in regulation to break the tie and give the Reign the lead for good. Ward’s shot came on a one-timer off a cross-ice feed by Martin Chromiak, who entered the zone after Kim Nousiainen secured possession by laying a hit on a Barracuda skater in neutral ice.

The eighth tally of the year for Ward also increased his team-leading plus-minus number to +20.

Ontario was able to hold its only lead of the night in the final minutes, including the last 1:15 when San Jose pulled Chrona in favor of an extra attacker.

The Reign finished 1-for-2 on the power play and held the Barracuda to a 0-for-3 mark on the man-advantage in the contest. Chrona finished with 24 saves for San Jose in a losing effort in between the pipes.

Postgame thoughts from Sturm, as well as Hudon, are below.

Marco Sturm
On clinching a playoff spot
It’s always good. I think the focus today was just on today’s game. It’s nice to hear [that we clinched] but it was a tough game today. It was not the start that we wanted but the guys pulled it off and got rewarded on the end.

On the team’s confidence after the early deficit
Right from the start, from the first shift after, it was just about forgetting the goals against. We were just not ready to go. It’s hard to come back. Sometimes it works, sometimes not. Today it did. After the first intermission, I think we took over the game. They’ve always been dangerous. They had a five-on-three that we had to kill and those were big moments that we had to manage. After the [first period] it was a much better game.

On Hudon’s return and moving Ward to the top line
Guys were playing really well. I liked the lines we had in the past. Now with Hudon back it changed a little bit, but we felt really comfortable. That line gave us some really good games in the past and I don’t have a problem with moving Ward up. He’s scored some big goals and that’s really good for us. I think I said this last game but we need everyone, especially if guys are out. That’s how we win hockey games.

On what Charles Hudon has meant to the team
He’s a veteran. He’s a good person. He’s very smart and he’s kind of a hockey nerd, and you can see it. He brings the guys together and it’s nice to have him back.

On Aaron Dell earning a win against his former team
I think he felt pretty good. He had a tough start too. Who wants to give up two goals in the first? He bounced back pretty well and he made some really nice saves. I think his family is here today too and he’s driving home with them tomorrow. I think it’s nice when you play your former team, especially since San Jose became his home a little bit. I’m happy for him. It was a nice win and also a good game.

On another big game with Bakersfield on Saturday
They’re good. Again, we have to focus on it day by day. It’s playoff hockey so we want to get prepared. Those are the teams we might play in the first round so we want to make sure that [the guys] know who they’re going to play against and who they’re up with. We’re going to play them hard and we’ll see.

Charles Hudon
On returning to the lineup after injury
It was nice. It was a tough two weeks for me mentally. It’s just nice to be back with the boys. It was a good game for us. Not the first period we wanted but that’s how good teams bounce back, and that’s what we did today. My goal is to be on the ice every single game. It’s been a tough year with the injuries for myself but I have to stay focused and be ready when I’m in the lineup.

On the team’s confidence to come back from the early deficit
It’s funny, it was kind of quiet in the dressing room after they scored those two goals. Yes, we played badly but the vibe was more confident. One shot can change the whole game, so it was good and we found a way to win.

On assisting Akil Thomas’ second period goal
Akil has been really good confidence-wise lately. I was Madden get the puck and I screamed something, and Mads heard me so he put it right on the stick. I know Killer has the instinct to hunt and he could smell the blood and he was right there. I knew he was right on my back so that I could give it to him.

On scoring on the power play
It was not pretty but we were chasing the puck really well. When I was in the stands watching I could see that that’s what we were missing a little bit. I came in this morning and talked to the group and said that we need to do something more. Not just on the five-on-four but also when it’s at full strength. We finished with a goal and that’s good.

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