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#USPHLPlayoffs: Ontario Jr. Reign vs. Las Vegas Thunderbirds

Pacific Division 

Las Vegas Thunderbirds (3) at Ontario Jr. Reign (2)*

All Games At Ontario Center Arena

Friday, March 1, 8:50 p.m. PST 

Saturday, March 2, 8:30 p.m. PST*

Sunday, March 3, 8:30 p.m. PST (If Necessary) 

* = The Visiting Team will have Home Ice Advantage For Game 2 of the series

 

By Joshua Boyd / USPHLPremier.com 

 

Interstate 15 runs through some dry and barren country in its concrete ribbon between Las Vegas, Nev., and Ontario, Calif. It can be a really long drive – so don’t blame the Las Vegas Thunderbirds for wanting to make it a fun drive as they come back from Ontario following the conclusion of their series against the Ontario Jr. Reign. 

These are two very close teams in the Pacific Division, so it won’t come easy for either team to get the win. However, the T-Birds certainly know what to do after earning the team’s first USPHL Nationals berth last year. They joined the Fresno Monsters as the only two Pacific teams to represent the division at the big dance so far, the Monsters having done it both of the first two years of the division. Matt Johnson may be brand new to the T-Birds bench, but he knows full well the importance of playoffs. 

“For getting ready to play Ontario, our message has just been to compete, each shift. That starts at practice,” said Johnson. “Ontario is a well-structured team that outworks their opponents. Over the course of the season, the matchups have been close. The team that makes the least amount of mistakes will win.”

“We are looking forward to playing the defending Pacific Division champions,” said Ontario Head Coach Jeremy Blumes. “We’ve had a good week of preparation and are looking forward to the weekend of competition in our home rink.”

The only difference in the series, after a 2-2 mark for each team in the first four match-ups, was a 5-4 overtime win for the Jr. Reign on Jan. 14. It was the third game between the two teams decided by one goal. The Jr. Reign are going in with some vengeance on their minds, as the T-Birds won their opening round playoff series 2-0 last year. Speaking of one-goal games, the T-Birds went on to win two of those to defeat Fresno and get those Vegas bags packed for Utica. 

A healthy number of members of last year’s Vegas team at Nationals came back for another run, including fifth-year Thunderbird defenseman Nicholas Bonaldi (133 points in 114 games). Guillaume Dufour is back for his third season now, and has 93 points for his career. Interestingly, it’s been a number of newcomers that are the statistical leaders. Noah Morency leads with 74 points in 43 games, followed by second-year Premier player and first-year T-Bird Mark Ciolli with 69 points in 46 games. Mason Wight was a second-year Premier player who was acquired from Long Beach and finished with 30 points in his 26 Thunderbird games. First-year defenseman Logan Walz led the way in plus-minus, tying with Morency at +36. Fellow blueliner Wilson Webster led the way in blocked shots with 53. 

For the Jr. Reign, many nights it was either the Kaedin Larocque-Wolfe Show or the Rhys Doyle Show – or both. Larocque-Wolfe posted 77 points this year, and Doyle was just behind at 76. Nicholas Fiolleau (38 points in 27 games) just recently returned to the team, while Tristan Lam (44 points in 38 games) and Tegan Neuman – who joined from the OJHL, scoring 18 points in nine games – are also going to be looked to for offense. Doyle was the plus-minus leader at +52 and won 658 faceoffs for 62 percent success. Second-year Jr. Reign defenseman Eamon Julian had the team’s most blocked shots with 50 blocks.

Second-year Jr. Reign Josh Henson was the No. 1 goaltender with a 15-5-0-0 record and a .910 save percentage. Ironically, Vegas’ Sam Peterson also went 15-5-0-0, and came up with a .924 save percentage. Additionally, Vegas goaltender Naomi Baechler was the first female goaltender to get a win in the USPHL Premier, going 3-1 this year as she works her way towards her future at Yale University with that Ivy League school’s women’s hockey program.

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