Reign Preview 4/27 – Madden’s Big Night + Portillo’s Precision Under Pressure, A Battle In Bakersfield

WHO: Ontario Reign (1-0) @ Bakersfield Condors (0-1)
WHAT: 2024 Calder Cup Playoffs – Round 1, Game 2
WHEN: Saturday, April 27 @ 7:00 PM Pacific
WHERE: Mechanics Bank Arena – Bakersfield, CA
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: AHLTV – AUDIO – Reign Broadcast Network – TWITTER: @ShafReign & @ontarioreign

The Reign continue their first round best-of-3 Calder Cup Playoffs series against the Bakersfield Condors Saturday night in Game 2 at Mechanics Bank Arena. A win for Ontario would advance the team past Bakersfield and into the Pacific Division Semifinals.

HEAD-TO-HEAD: Picking up where they left off at the end of the regular season, the Reign earned a 5-1 victory in Game 1 of the series on Wednesday. The win was their fourth consecutive over the Condors overall after three straight decisions went their way over the final month of the regular season.

Four different scorers found the back of the net in Game 1 for Ontario, including Andre Lee and Tyler Madden, who had two tallies, as well as Joe Hicketts and Akil Thomas. Madden and Thomas each also had success against Bakersfield during the regular season, recording six points apiece in the eight games with Madden posting two goals and four assists while Thomas netted three goals and three assists.

REIGN VITALS: The Reign had a full team off day on Thursday after the Game 1 win on Wednesday night and then had a practice on Friday morning before the group took a bus up to Bakersfield. It’s expected that the team will hold an optional morning skate on Saturday at Mechanics Bank Arena.

After his 30-save performance with just a single goal allowed in Game 1, Erik Portillo is expected to once again get the start in net for Ontario. Portillo finished his first professional regular season with 39 appearances and a record of 24-11-3 along with a 2.50 goals-against average and a 0.918 save percentage.

During Friday’s practice, the team did not have any changes to the formation they iced in Game 1 –

Turcotte – Tynan – Fagemo
Hudon – Thomas – Madden
Lee – Helenius – Ward
Hodgson – Pavlychev – Doty
Francis – Pinelli – Chromiak

Hicketts – Clarke
Connauton – Santini
Nousiainen – Wylie

Portillo / Bednard

The group’s performance and effectiveness in the opening game of the series shouldn’t necessitate any changes to the lineup, and with the full team on the ice in practice Friday it seems as if everyone who was in finished the contest healthy.

Marco Sturm had some tough calls up front going into the series, but he got the results he was hoping for when he made his decisions. His comments after the game indicated that he does expect forwards Martin Chromiak and Francesco Pinelli to factor into things at some point, but they’ll likely have to wait longer for their chance. If things go south in Game 2, they could potentially check in for what would be a win-or-go-home matchup on Sunday in Ontario.

CONDORS VITALS: Bakersfield is back at home for a must-win game Saturday inside a building where they went 19-12-3-2 during the regular season. Three of their losses came to the Reign, who played well-disciplined road hockey for much of the series.

In the opening round of the 2022 postseason, the Condors used home ice to eliminate Abbotsford with back-to-back one-goal wins before falling to Stockton in the Pacific Division Semifinals.

While Jack Campbell played the entirety of Game 1 and is expected to be Bakersfield’s go-to option in goal during the postseason, the Condors could potentially turn to their other option in Olivier Rodrigue if they desire either to begin Game 2 or if things don’t go their way once the puck drops. Before he allowed five goals to Ontario to begin the playoffs, Campbell appeared in 33 games for Bakersfield during the regular season, going 18-13-1 with a 2.63 goals-against and a 0.918 save percentage. Rodridgue, on the other hand, is in his fourth season with the team and was counted on in 37 games this year while posting a 2.73 GAA and a 0.916 save percentage.

Here’s how the Condors lined up on Wednesday night in Ontario –

Condors’ head coach Colin Chaulk indicated postgame that he was pleased with his team’s start early in the series opener, but that they didn’t stick to their game plan in the second when Ontario scored four of its five goals during the middle period. Chaulk also mentioned that although his team had a bad period and it cost them the game, there is still time to turn things around, and was excited about returning home to play in front of their fans in Bakersfield.

Notes –
Madden’s Big Night
10 of Ontario’s 18 skaters recorded points during Game 1 on Wednesday, highlighted by two goals from Tyler Madden, who scored once during the power play in the second period and a second time just after a man-advantage had come to an end in the third.

Madden played in 71 out of 72 regular season games for the Reign this year, missing only the final contest in Colorado on Sunday when Sturm decided it would be best to give him a rest and keep him fresh for the playoffs.

“He plays with a lot of emotions,” Sturm said of Madden after the Game 1 win. “There was a reason why I rested him in Colorado. He’s been really good down the stretch and Tyler Madden is really good when he’s ready to go and rested and that paid off today.”

The rest certainly paid off and the Reign were better for it. Playing alongside linemates Charles Hudon and Akil Thomas, the trio combined for five points in the victory.

Although Madden only suited up for 14 games during his first pro season which was the COVID-shortened 2021 campaign, he also dealt with injuries the following year during 2021-22, playing in 48 contests.

That hasn’t been the case in each of the past two seasons, which has seen Madden become one of the most dependable forwards in Sturm’s lineup. While he hasn’t been able to break out on the scoresheet, finishing with 33 points in 71 games in 2022-23 before producing 34 points this year, the crafty forward has remained healthy and certainly has the pulse of the locker room as the postseason begins.

“I think the whole team was great,” Madden explained after he was named the No. 1 star Wednesday. “We played the way we wanted to and got out of here with a win so it’s a big night for us. We love playing at home and we’ve been hot recently so let’s keep it going.”

He’s speaking from experience as someone who has been around for postseason play during each of the past three years. All three of those seasons have ended in disappointment at the hands of the Colorado Eagles but Ontario is hoping for a different outcome this time around with a deeper lineup.

Madden ended his postgame comments to the Toyota Arena crowd with confidence as someone who sounded eager to get right back at it in Game 2. When asked what it would take to finish the series on the road Saturday night, Madden made a prediction-

“We’ve just got to play the same way. We played a great game tonight and we’re going to do it again in Bakersfield for sure.”

Portillo’s Precision Under Pressure
The biggest question mark for the Reign coming into the playoffs was in goal. That’s not because netminder Erik Portillo hadn’t played well or hadn’t earned the starting job, but because as a rookie, he’d never before appeared in a playoff game as a pro.

He has however had experience in high-pressure situations before. In each of the last two seasons, Portillo was in net for the University of Michigan’s run to the Frozen Four. The run in 2022 included a win over Minnesota in the one-game, winner-take-all Big Ten Tournament Final, as well as NCAA Tournament victories over American International (AIC) and Quinnipiac. The following season, Portillo and the Wolverines repeated as Big Ten Champions with another win over Minnesota before NCAA triumphs against Colgate and Penn State, who they defeated 2-1 in overtime.

“I have a good background with playing a lot of playoff games in college, and a lot of just one game on the line scenarios,” Portillo said postgame. “I felt prepared for this and I think the team helped me out as well. We felt very comfortable going into this game.”

His preparation was on display right from the start on Wednesday, with multiple key saves in the first period both at even strength and during an early Ontario penalty kill.

“You have to be prepared from the start,” Portillo added. “They are an offensive team that can score goals. Being able to come up with a few saves there in the beginning is obviously nice for myself and also to help the team get comfortable and keep going.”

The 23-year-old also helped kill off two back-to-back minor penalties in the second period, which included a 4-on-3 opportunity for Bakersfield. He got help from his teammates immediately after the second infraction to Kevin Connauton when Akil Thomas won the ensuing faceoff to begin the 4-on-3 and jumped into a 2-on-1 rush with Joe Hicketts that eventually saw the defender find the back of the net on a one-timer from the right circle.

It wasn’t until 10:14 of the third period that Portillo allowed the only tally the Condors would score in Game 1. By that point, the Reign were already in control of the game, having scored four times during the second.

“He got the game puck today because he kept us in it early in the game,” Sturm said of his goaltender. “They had a power play, they had all the chances. They had nothing five-on-five in the first period, but they have a dangerous power play and they had a lot of good looks and he kept us in the game.”

A Battle in Bakersfield
As the Reign look to turn the page and close out the Condors on Saturday, they made a change to the schedule they normally set up for travel to Mechanics Bank Arena. Instead of their normal routine of holding a morning skate in El Segundo before an afternoon bus ride north before game time, Ontario opted to make the trip a day early and stay overnight in Bakersfield.

“It’s the first time in a long time that we left the day before and that’s the big change, even if it’s just a few hours,” Sturm mentioned after Friday’s practice at Toyota Sports Performance Center. “We wanted to give the guys enough rest and just want to make sure we give them the opportunity to give us everything they have and that’s part of it, part of it is preparation.”

Once they arrived safely in Kern County, the team had a big dinner together.

“The guys like to hang out together and that’s a big part of our game of hockey in general,” Sturm explained. “When I retired, believe it or not, those were the moments I missed the most, just being on the road, hanging out with the guys and having dinners together. We laugh and joke and I believe that brings guys together.”

There isn’t too much that the coach wants to see his team change as they enter Game 2, but the challenge will be playing as well as they did for a second consecutive game. After watching the game again and digesting the result, Sturm didn’t have anything he wanted to see differently on Saturday.

“For a coach that’s always nice. Yes, there’s always little things, little details, but overall I was looking at the good stuff,” Sturm said. “We never really gave them a chance to set up. It doesn’t matter which zone of the ice they were in, and that gives us credit the way we played and how aggressive we were. That’s something we’ll try to do again.”

Sturm added that although they did a lot of things well in the opener, that doesn’t carry over or impact the next game at all. It will be up to his team to treat it as another fresh start.

“I’m proud of the guys, but the game is over,” Sturm continued. “You definitely take that win but I told the guys, now it’s a new game and it starts 0-0 again and they’re going to come at us and we just have to make sure first of all we’re going to be ready. And also play the same way and have the same commitment and mindset to get it done.”

Game 2 Forecast!
Josh Schaefer and I get you set for Saturday’s matchup with a quick recap of Game 1 and extra insight from Sturm after yesterday’s team practice before the group made the trip up to Bakersfield. The gameday edition of the Reign Check Podcast also includes Portillo’s thoughts after Wednesday’s win in the series opener.

The series continues tonight at 7 from Condorstown! Schaefer and I have the call of all the action with streaming video on AHLTV and live audio on the Reign Broadcast Network. Stay tuned here on LAKI for postgame reaction later this evening.


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