Associate Sports Editor
University of La Verne biology professor Robert Neher participated in the ceremonial puck drop for ULV night as the Ontario Reign defeated bitter rival, the Las Vegas Wranglers, 3-1, on March 12 at Citizens Business Bank Arena.
It was also Jase Weslosky’s debut with the Reign, who was traded from the Florida Everblades the previous day and finished with 35 saves.
“I think he played great, he’s big, square, calm,” head coach Karl Taylor said. “I was never feeling that anxious feeling, I felt really confident in him, he didn’t get in till three in the morning, his flights were delayed, he had a tough day and I thought he played a hell of a game.”
Throughout the first two periods, neither team found a rhythm; as it was a back-and-forth, rough game.
“They came really hard in the first and our new goalie Jase gave us a chance and we hung on a little bit,” Taylor said.
“I thought the second period was kind of a mucky game. It could’ve gone either way. They played hard they defended well in the first period.”
During the last two games, the Reign managed at least 35 shots on net, but only challenged Wranglers netminder Bill Sauer 22 times on the evening.
“It was more of a defensive game on both sides. We got a few more penalties this evening as well, so that always contributes to less shots when you’re in your defensive zone,” Reign forward Jordan Morrison said.
The Wranglers struck first on a transition play where the Reign fell asleep with 2:28 left in the second period. But a little less than halfway through the third Ontario found the tiebreaker off of a clean-up play by Morrison.
“It just popped off the pad and I was standing beside the net and just corralled it and threw it in the net on the backhand,” Morrison said.
After suffering a harsh 7-4 defeat at the hands of Las Vegas the previous evening, Ontario kept this game close throughout, never allowing the Wranglers to keep possession of the puck for extended periods or allow them to have odd man rushes down the ice.
“I think we just buckled down in the defensive zone tonight. It was more of a defensive effort. Last night it got a bit out of hand, and whenever you can keep it close you have a chance to win the game,” Morrison said.
Ontario broke the tie at the 11:33 mark of the third period on a nasty wrist shot from the middle of the right circle, high to the glove side of Bauer, by forward Kyle Kraemer that brought the crowd back into the game.
Once they gained the advantage, the Reign wanted to keep pushing the Wranglers back on their heels with a relentless forecheck.
“Get the pucks in deep, get them out of our zone, just get the puck in the corner and go,” Kraemer said.
With a little less than two minutes left, Bauer went to the bench so the extra attacker could go on for Las Vegas, leaving an unprotected net for the Reign to take advantage of.
Right winger Chaz Johnson did just that, finishing the empty netter and the game with 43 seconds remaining, sealing a victory on Go Green and Teacher Appreciation Jersey Night in front of a sellout crowd of 9,592.
Since ULV night, the Reign are 2-2.
With a win over the Wranglers by a score of 4-2 on March 17, consecutive losses to the Bakersfield Condors by scores of 3-1 and 5-2 on March 18 and March 19, and a 4-3 triumph over the Idaho Steelheads Wednesday.
In Wednesday’s win, they Reign were lead by Johnson and forward Michael Pelech who each finished with two goals.
The Reign are officially out of any contention for a playoff spot in the Western Conference of the ECHL.
Ontario has a mere 54 points and a record of 24-37-6, worst in the conference and league and eight points behind the closest team from the western conference, the Victoria Salmon Kings.
Their next game is today at Idaho, with the drop of the puck at 6:10 p.m., and you can follow updates on Facebook or Twitter.
Daniel Hargis can be reached at email@example.com.