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

By Grace Mello / USPHL.com 

Pacific Division 

Las Vegas Thunderbirds (2) vs. Ontario Jr. Reign (3) 

Thursday, March 2, 6 p.m. PST, Las Vegas Ice Center

Friday, March 3, 8:45 p.m. PST, Las Vegas Ice Center

Saturday, March 4, 8 p.m., Lifeguard Arena (if necessary)

 

Tonight at Las Vegas Ice Center, the second-seeded Las Vegas Thunderbirds (34-9-3) will host the third-seeded Ontario Jr. Reign (34-11-1) in the best of three division quarterfinal.

While the Jr. Reign are the lower seed, they went 5-3-1-0 against Las Vegas during regular season play. The two played back-to-back series against each other in late November (4-3 OT, 6-3, 3-5) and early December (2-1, 3-4, 4-3) in which the Jr. Reign earned two series wins.

The Thunderbirds came back in early February to earn a series win over Ontario (6-8, 7-6 OT, 8-5). Thunderbirds General Manager and Coach Adam Bonaldi tells us that they are looking to improve as they make this playoff run.

“The team is playing a more complete game with everyone buying into what the coaches were teaching earlier in the season,” he said. “We were a little ‘run and gun’ when the season started.”

Bonaldi credits many of his players for their success throughout the season, as Las Vegas has over 11 players who average more than 1.2 points per game.

“Of course, you have to recognize our leading forwards, Narek Aleksanyan and Antoine Tourigny and then Nick Bonaldi as a D-man,” he said “However, we have had massive contributions from Tristan Tremblay, Gavin Frack and Freddy Pinel at forward with Loic Gosselin, Andrew Bellehumeur and Beau Kennedy providing both consistency and offense from the D position.”

He adds that they wouldn’t be where they are today without the return of Ludovic Martel from the NCDC and Alex Joanette returning from a long-term injury.

“And finally, our goaltending has been fantastic. Loic Morin and Sam Peterson have given us a great 1-2 punch with Josh Griffith and Simon Johnson stepping in all year to provide great stability,” added Bonaldi.

Last season, Las Vegas fell short to the Fresno Monsters in the Pacific Division Final and are looking to get the opportunity for redemption this year.

The Ontario Jr. Reign also fell short to Fresno in Round 1 of the Pacific Division playoffs last season but have a chance to advance to the final, starting tonight.

General Manager and Head Coach of the Jr. Reign, Jeremy Blumes, shares some details about his team throughout the season.

“The team now is playing with a lot more structure and discipline than earlier in the year, this is a direct result of buying into the system. We pride ourselves on being a team that is hard to play against, that plays physical, that has been consistent throughout the season.”

Blumes highlights some key players that have directly contributed to the Jr. Reign’s success this season.

“Ethan McKibbin is the best ‘200-foot’ forward in the league. He does it all at both ends of the ice,” Blumes added. “Our Captain Max Kathol is another excellent two-way forward that is tenacious on the forecheck and back check.”

He adds that “Assistant Captain Zach Stangness plays with his heart on his sleeve and plays with a lot of emotion directed in the right way as well as our other Assistant Captain Andrew Cervantes, who is a leader in his own way. Those are our captains and when I look at those guys, I know that they are going to lead the charge.”

As they travel to Las Vegas for round one, Blumes tells us that they are a very deep group and will be counting on all of their players to contribute.

“We need to stick to our structure and maintain our focus. Keep them to the outside and take away time and space. If we stick to those things, I am optimistic that we are gonna end up advancing to the Pacific Division Final.”

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