Reign set for home-heavy March with goal of continued success – LA Kings Insider

It’s time for a homestand! The Ontario Reign spent almost the entire month of February on the road, but now they’re back to Southern California and set to open a five-game homestand beginning Wednesday when they host the Tucson Roadrunners. It’s the first of nine games at Toyota Arena in a month where the Reign won’t have to travel far for its away games with two Saturday trips to San Diego for matchups with the Gulls on March 12 and 26.

After a lot of time away from their loved ones and home fans, the Reign are not scheduled to leave the state of California until the final two weekends of the AHL’s regular season when they have consecutive trips to Colorado and Henderson.

“It was a long road trip, I think we were on the road for six or seven days there at a time,” said forward Tyler Madden. “It was fun, I had a good time. It’s nice to go to different places and then also just being around your teammates every day. Here at home we’re all doing our own thing, but on the road we go out to dinner together, hang out at the hotel, play cards and stuff like that so it was a good time but it’s nice to be at home and have this homestand coming up.”

During the lengthy time away from the Inland Empire, the Reign posted a respectable road record of 5-3-1, which, combined with a win in their lone home contest over San Diego on Feb. 20, kept them in second place in the Pacific Division standings and within striking distance of first-place Stockton.

“It was an important stretch,” said Reign Assistant Coach Chris Hajt. “Anytime you go on the road you get some extra time around your teammates and as a group and that’s valuable time. At home, you’re with your significant other or your girlfriend or you’re doing other things, but we have a real good group of players and it was nice to be on the road.”

While the team has certainly held their own on opponents’ ice, scoring the most goals on the road of any AHL team this season with 96, their play at home has been even better. In 21 contests at Toyota Arena, Ontario has posted a league-best record of 15-2-2-2, which equates to a points percentage of 0.810. In total, the Reign have secured 34 of a possible 42 points in games contested on their home ice.

It’s been a noticeable transition for the team, who had to get re-acquainted with the building this season after playing the entirety of its 2021-22 home schedule on practice ice at Toyota Sports Performance Center. Only 10 members of the current roster had ever stepped foot inside Toyota Arena prior to this season. Madden is one of those players who had to begin his pro career in a pandemic, with empty buildings as a backdrop. He even said it was a little weird returning to normal when the Reign opened their season at home in October, but that feeling didn’t last.

“Obviously I had never played in that rink before but I’m more and more excited every time we go there,” Madden said. “I feel like I play better in front of our fans. It gives me a little bit of encouragement and I think it does for everybody else too.”

For Hajt, who has seen many games in Ontario since he moved west with the team prior to the 2015-16 campaign, he felt the team’s play has improved as everyone got either more comfortable with their routine or reacquainted with getting ready to play at home.

“You think back to last year and we weren’t in our home rink,” Hajt said. “The Toyota Sports Performance Center is great, but there’s nothing like playing in front of your home fans. I think that’s really helped our group, being able to go back and be in our own building and have our great fans that are loud. I think the players have really enjoyed that part of it.”

One player already familiar with Toyota Arena is defenseman Austin Strand, who began his pro career with the Reign in 2018-19. He’s also noticed that his newer teammates have become more acclimated to the building and it’s a confident group headed into the home stretch.

“I think just getting comfortable has played an effect,” Strand said. “Also with the taxi squads a little bit, we didn’t know who we were going to have in the lineup. Now we just have some consistency and guys are starting to mesh with their lines and pairings and just getting used to the routine in Ontario. Playing in front of the fans and having the fans be there nice and loud just really helps us get motivated and excited to play.”

Now, with 11 of their next 14 games scheduled to be played at Toyota Arena, Ontario is looking to continue its success at home. When asked what came to mind when they looked at the upcoming schedule with limited travel on the horizon, both Madden and Strand had similar answers.

“I love it,” Madden said. “I love being here [El Segundo], I love being in Ontario, so it’s really good obviously having that whole month of being on the road and now we get to be home. It’s a little bit of yin and yang and hopefully we can win some more games at home.”

Strand’s expression looked as if he had just scored a big goal in the third period.

“It’s music to my ears,” Stand said. “Lately it’s been a lot of time on the road. [Rasmus] Kupari and I had a 14-day roadie with the Kings and then joined the Reign for another four days so we were on the road for 18 days last month. I just couldn’t be more excited to be at home, be in Ontario, spend more time here with the guys and settle in.”

There are advantages to playing at home, like having the fans in your corner, but there are also tactical things you can use to help as well, like creating matchups and knowing the feel of the ice or the boards in certain spots. The best teams make sure they take care of business in front of their fans.

“You definitely want to establish the fact that it’s your home rink and for the most part we’ve done a good job of that,” Hajt said. “Any winning team has a good record at home and we want to continue to establish our game with our forecheck, our hunt mentality and our ability to have a good power play but we also have the responsibility of checking and making sure that we play the right way at all times.”

If things continue in the right direction, the Reign would love to continue playing in Ontario for as long as possible this spring, potentially having the opportunity to host playoff games for their fans.

“It feels really good right now,” Strand said. “We’ve got a pretty confident group here and we’re excited. “We’re not trying to look too far ahead but we know if we take care of the next segment and keep going, we’re all really excited and ready to continue playing well.”

But just as they did with the time on the road in February, Hajt is making sure the team is focused on what’s right in front of them. The next task, trying to come out with a win on Wednesday against a Tucson team that’s played Ontario tough in each of their previous eight meetings this season.

“You look at the big picture and it looks nice, but we’ve got to narrow the focus,” Hajt said. “We have to take it game-by-game and our focus is going to be on a hungry Tucson team coming into our building tomorrow. We need to make sure we’re ready for that.”

After Wednesday’s game with the Roadrunners, Ontario hosts a pair of games against Henderson on Friday and Saturday, a contest against Bakersfield on Monday and another battle with San Jose next Wednesday, March 9. We’ll have coverage of all the action right here on LAKI throughout the busy month as the Reign head down the stretch looking to clinch a spot in the AHL’s Calder Cup Playoffs.