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Ontario Reign Looking To Get Back On Track Heading Into Big Playoff Weekend

LA Kings left wing prospect Michael Mersch, shown here parked in front of the net, in Game 1 of the
Ontario Reign’s second round AHL playoff series vs. the San Diego Gulls.
(click above to view larger image)
Photo: David Sheehan/CaliShooterOne Photography

LOS ANGELES — After getting shutout by the San Diego Gulls, 3-0, in Game 3 of their best-of-seven, second round American Hockey League playoff series, on home ice, no less, the Ontario Reign are looking to get back to playing their game heading into this weekend’s Games 4 and 5.

The Reign lead the series, 2-1, with Game 4 scheduled for Friday, May 13, 7:05 PM PDT, at Valley View Casino Center in San Diego. Game 5 will be played at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario on Saturday, May 14, 7:00 PM.

“I think everybody was pretty disappointed with the effort on Sunday,” defenseman Jeff Schultz said in an interview on May 10 with Reign public relations staff. “It was all business today, a good, high-tempo practice, getting back to the basics of our team identity. It’s just start fresh this week, get back to knowing how we can play, get our system play down, and I’m sure we’ll be [watching] a lot of .”

Left wing Michael Mersch, who is likely to be playing in the National Hockey League for the Reign’s parent club, the Los Angeles Kings, next season, said that what the Reign need to do is quite simple.

“Just have a better start and carry it out,” Mersch told the media at practice on May 11. “[We have to] get out on the forecheck at little bit more and go from there. We won the first two games, so [let’s] do the same things we did in those games—get to the net. Our defensemen have done a really good job at getting the pucks from the point to the net. We, as forwards, just have to bear down on those opportunities.”

“It’s pretty simple from our standpoint,” Mersch added. “Get on the forecheck, get pucks back, get to the net, and we’ll get those opportunities.”

The Reign’s forecheck was an issue in Game 3. But they might have a solution.

“We had a tough game in our last game,” said left wing Adrian Kempe, the Kings’ first round pick (29th overall) in the 2014 NHL Draft. “We [didn’t score], so we have to be better in scoring. We have to get the forecheck going. We have to put pucks on the net. It’s the small details that we have to be better on.”

“The whole season, we had a really good forecheck,” added Kempe. “We have to keep the puck away from their goalie. [He’s] pretty good at handling the puck, so we’ve got to…put it in the corners and go from there.”

Dumping pucks into the corners was among the things the Reign have been working on in practice in recent days.

“We just got back to work—refocused, and you know what? Sunday night’s behind us,” said head coach Mike Stothers. “I’ve liked what I’ve seen. We had a recovery day on Monday. Tuesday was a real good practice, and I liked the focus and business-like approach that we had today, too.”

As for his team getting shutout in Game 3, Stothers stressed getting traffic in front of the San Diego netminder Matt Hackett.

“That’s what you’ve got to do,” Stothers noted. “Every goalie’s good if they can see the puck. We’ve got to make sure, as we did with some of the goals—get in front of him, get some traffic. But he’s been playing well. Their team’s been playing well. It’s not surprising. It’s two good teams. We knew goaltending was a strength for them even if it was [Anton] Khudobin or Hackett. It’s just the way it is.”

“Tomorrow’s Thursday, so we’ve got one more practice day and then we’re back down to San Diego,” Stothers added. “I’m looking forward to it. It’s going to be a good rebound game for us.”

In the end, it will likely come down to which team wants it more.

“It’s just the will and the want out there,” said Schultz. “It’s got to be a full game effort. There’s going to be ups and downs during the playoffs. You can’t get too high and you can’t get too low. We’ve just got to show that we’re ready, every game.”

“The way they’re looking at it is that momentum is in their favor,” added Schultz. “We know that’s a tough building to go into. [Going into Game 4], we’ve just got to be ready, come puck drop.”


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