It seemed to be the perfect recipe — bring back the same leadership corps, the same coach, the same system, add some physical toughness and skilled forwards — and you’ve got an Ontario Reign squad whose physical talents match their mental acumen.
The only problem, especially Friday, is that the mental toughness wasn’t present.
“I think we did it to ourselves,” said Jon Rheault, asked if the Las Vegas Wranglers had gotten under their skin in a 4-3 loss in the Reign’s home opener. “We have to learn to control our emotions. The reactions to some of the calls we had – we got hit and then we’d spear someone – it’s part of the game. We’ve got to be more mentally tough than that.”
The evidence for the lack of discipline lay in the third period, when the Reign handed Las Vegas seven power plays with the game tied at 3. Karl Taylor didn’t displace the responsibility for the blown whistles.
“It’s selfish play,” he said. “We weren’t willing to battle through. Most of them were deserved.”
Goaltender Curtis Darling, despite making some tough saves among the 31 he stopped, couldn’t forgive himself for the Wranglers’ first two goals. The first came on a puck that Mick Lawrence jammed inside the post early in the first period, despite Darling seemingly covering up his right corner.
The second, a short-handed goal, was even more forgettable. Darling ventured out to play a puck that was up for grabs. The goalie got there first, but Vegas’ Josh Prudden got to the puck next, threw it on net, then got credit for the goal when Greg Hogeboom appeared to tap it backwards over his own goal line.
“We gave them two goals at the beginning of the game,” Darling said. “It doesn’t matter how hard you play. You can’t just hand over goals. Two mistakes for me; two goals – that doesn’t feel good. I owe the guys one after this, that’s for sure.”
These costly mistakes masked an otherwise solid effort for the Reign, who outplayed Las Vegas 5-on-5 and killed eight of the Wranglers’ nine power plays.
But for a team accustomed to avoiding mental lapses, a loss like this stung.
“We melted in the third under pressure,” Taylor said bluntly. “It’s not complicated. Get out of the freakin’ box.”