Eagles use strong second period to fly past Reign

Ryan Loberger

What a difference a week can make as the Colorado Eagles rode a six-game win streak that took them from the outside of the playoff picture to having a seven-point hold on the fourth and final spot in the Pacific Division. Undefeated through their past six games Colorado hosted the Ontario Reign Tuesday night to kick off the first leg of their two-game series. 

The Eagles are still without their AHL All Star forward Andrew Agozzino, as he was called up last week to join the Avalanche just prior to the Eagles’ trip to San Diego last weekend.

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“Sometimes those bounces just happen, but the way its been going with the dedication and the commitment this team has had over the last two weeks to playing the right way and the system we’ve been trying to play the whole year has shown up, and when you do that consistently bounces start to go your way.”  <s000000; f-MARK ALT

Colorado had balanced scoring throughout the lineup as they downed the Reign 5-1 in the first game of the series. Forward Julien Nantel and defenseman Kevin Davis carried the Eagles offense.

“I thought they did a great job—Davis especially—getting pucks to the net,” said Eagles’ captain Mark Alt. “Those guys that have stepped in have done a great job of playing within the system. You see Nantel taking the puck end to end, it was a great solo effort, so we’ve had guys step up when we’ve needed them.”

The crowd at Budweiser didn’t seem as loud as usual to start the game, both teams seemed to go through the motions for the first half of the opening frame. The Eagles and the crowd woke up unexpectedly when Colorado was called a tripping minor. The Eagles putting their 6th ranked penalty kill to the test, found themselves on the attack when forwards AJ Greer and Logan O’Connor both earned breakaway chances less than a minute into the penalty kill.

Reign goaltender Cal Petersen shut down both chances but the energy returned to the building, Colorado stuck to their system and outworked the Reign, which also created some fortuitous bounces.

“Sometimes those bounces just happen,” Alt said. “But the way its been going with the dedication and the commitment this team has had over the last two weeks to playing the right way and the system we’ve been trying to play the whole year has shown up, and when you do that consistently bounces start to go your way.”

Colorado caught a break in the form of a broken stick while on the power play when Reign captain Brett Sutter suffered a broken stick while battling for a puck. Creating a five-on-three with Sutter only being able to watch, the Eagles moved the puck around to an open Davis who fired a shot that bounced off a Reign player and into the net for a 1-0 Eagles lead.

After the Reign answered to end the first period with a 1-1 tie, again it took Colorado about half the period to find their game, getting a spark from Davis for a second time. Davis, who had scored once entering the contest, found the back of the net just under 8 minutes in for his second of the game while working a give-and-go on a zone entry to break the stalemate.

”I thought the second period was our best period,” Alt said. “For the full game I thought we stuck to our game plan, getting pucks deep, we did a better possessing the puck in their end and it wore them out. ”

From there Colorado’s forwards got to work, grinding down the Reign and stretching the lead to three goals, with the defenseman leading the way. Colorado yielded a power-play chance for the Reign but Greer kept his feet moving while chasing a loose puck, forcing a Regin defender to drag him down and take a penalty.

Colorado got a brief stint of 4-on-4 hockey and Nantel took full advantage. He took an outlet pass in full stride, skating around all four Reign skaters before sliding a five-hole shot into the net for a 3-1 lead, scoring his first goal of the year.

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“Four-on-four, it was cool because I wasn’t supposed to go on the ice,” Nantel said. “I thought McGauley was on the ice and we were supposed to go on the power-play. (Cronin) was like ‘who’s going?’ and I guess he saw me first. I had some speed and took advantage of it, (it’s) nice to get the first one.”

Forward Julien Nantel scores his first goal of the season against the Ontario Reign on March 12. Colorado won the contest 5-1 (Photo courtesy of the Colorado Eagles)

Defenseman Mason Geertsen added another goal when a wrist shot made it through a sea of bodies to find the top left corner with just 1:01 left in the second period. Colorado headed to the dressing room with a sizable 4-1 lead ahead of the final period of play.

“(The) second period was really good,” Nantel said. “After the first period coach said we had to pick it up, so that’s what we did. We had a lot of speed in the second, we finished checks, we played the right way. I thought our third period was kinda sloppy too, we just have to play the same way we did in the second (period) tomorrow.”

From there the Eagles closed out the third-period thanks to sustained offensive pressure and a strong defensive effort to help seal the game. Heading into the third period, Colorado outshot the Reign by a 31-18 margin and had a perfect 3/3 on the penalty kill. The Eagles were simply the better team, as they created the majority of the offensive chances, but the Reign picked up their physicality in the final period and will be looking to take the next game as revenge.

“They picked up their physicality quite a bit (at the end of the game),” Alt said. “That’s expected from them. We’ve played this team a number of times this year and they’re always gonna be physical, so I’d expect that even more tomorrow, and we have to be ready because this doesn’t mean anything anymore. Tomorrow’s another big 2 points.”

Ryan Loberger can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @LobergerRyan.