An outstanding inaugural AHL season it was for the Ontario Reign, who now saddle up for the Inland Empire’s first taste of Calder Cup postseason action as they prepare to take on the San Jose Barracuda in a best-of-five Western Conference Quarterfinal series.
The Reign wasted no time in securing their playoff berth, becoming the first Western Conference club to do so on March 27.
Ontario won the Pacific Division with a 44-19-4-1 record, racking up 93 points, good for fourth-best in the Western Conference. It was the third-straight division title for the Kings’ AHL affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs topping off their respective division in 2014 and 2015.
The Reign finished the year as the AHL’s best defensive club, allowing just 138 goals over the span of 68 games, and average of 2.03 per game, the sixth-lowest total in league history.
A large part of the frustration the Reign caused opposing offenses came because of the play of goaltender Peter Budaj, who finished the season with a 42-14-4 record, posting a remarkable 1.75 GAA, a .932 SV%, and nine shutouts.
Budaj, just the third AHL goalie since 1984 to lead the league in wins, GAA, SV% and shutouts in a single season, was the recipient of two league awards. Budaj won the Hap Holmes Award, which is given to the primary goaltender that plays on the team that allows the fewest goals per game during a single season, and the Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award as well, given to the league’s outstanding goaltender as voted by coaches, players and media.
POINTS APLENTY: 11 players finished the season with 20 points or more; forward Sean Backman led the team with 55 points (21G, 34A). Michael Mersch led the team in goals scored (24), Nic Dowd tied Backman for the team-lead in assists (34).
FULL HOUSE: The Reign finished fourth in the AHL in average attendance, drawing a median of 8,570 fans per game at the Citizens Business Bank Arena.
HEALTHY FARM: The Kings’ AHL affiliate has now qualified for the playoffs 13 times in the past 14 years, the Manchester Monarchs did not qualify during the 2008-’09 season.
Much like the Kings, the Reign will be matching up with a San Jose club in their first round series, the Barracuda, who finished fourth-place in the Pacific division with a 31-26-8-3 record. Ontario dominated San Jose during the regular season, posting a 9-3-0-0 record against the Barracuda in the teams’ 12 meetings.
Although the Reign have earned home-ice in this match-up, the series will open Friday night at the SAP Center in San Jose. Due to the opening round being a best-of-five series, and with only one instance of travel allotted, the higher-seeded team had the choice of whether to play the first three games on home-ice, or the latter three.
Game 1: at San Jose - Friday, April 22, 7:30 p.m.
Game 2: at San Jose - Saturday, April 23, 7:30 p.m.
Game 3: at Ontario - Thursday, April 28, 7 p.m.
Game 4: at Ontario - Friday, April 29, 7 p.m.*
Game 5: at Ontario - Sunday, May 1, 3 p.m.*
*- if necessary
BUY: Ontario Reign Playoff Tickets