The Reign saved the best for last, beating Las Vegas 3-1 in their final regular-season home game to clinch a Kelly Cup playoff berth. Jon Rheault scored two goals, Jeff Zatkoff stopped 28 shots and Colton Teubert laid some big hits and picked up his first professional assist.
It was a strange atmosphere at the very end: First, a Jon Rheault empty-net goal with 1.3 left (his third of the game), then an all-out melee involving all 10 skaters on the ice (gloves dropped, sticks dropped, hats sailed in from all corners for Rheault), then Jon Francisco getting pummeled by a Las Vegas player while the officials restrained Chad Starling from breaking it up (but didn’t restrain the Vegas player, at first, from going after Francisco, who was in a vulnerable position), then Rheault’s goal getting called back since it was after the whistle, then Dan Knapp dropping gloves with instigator Steve Makway on the ensuing faceoff, then the final horn sounding and hostility turning immediately into celebration.
Minutes afterward, Karl Taylor was still agitated about the Wranglers’ late-game actions, calling it “bush-league hockey” and calling for fines to Makway and the organization. We’ll see in the coming days if the ECHL takes any actions, but it’s worth noting that Makway has been disciplined once before this year, earning a fine and a one-game suspension for his actions in a March 8 game against Alaska.
In all, it was easily the Reign’s best effort this week and a welcome end to a five-game losing streak. They get two days off before their next game, which is Wednesday against the Idaho Steelheads in Boise.
There will be no more home games until the playoffs, and the team celebrated fan appreciation day by giving away their orange game jerseys to season ticket holders after the game. (Presumably, this means only blue and white unis in the playoffs.) Then, the players and fans all hopped on the ice for a free skate.
As PA announcer Jeff Pope mentioned multiple times during the game, the Reign became the first ECHL team to draw more than 200,000 fans to their home arena this year. They won’t be the last, and the Stockton Thunder (who have four games remaining and have drawn 198,189 fans already this year) will likely lead the league in attendance. But the Reign could finish second, which would be no small achievement for an expansion team. The attendance race
will be an interesting diversion from the playoff race
as the season winds down.
More quotes and details in tomorrow’s editions. The official scoresheet is here