#USPHLNationals Premier Team Preview: Ontario Jr. Reign

By Joshua Boyd / USPHLPremier.com


The Ontario Jr. Reign became the third Pacific Division team to qualify for Nationals after the division and its teams made their USPHL debut in 2020-21. 

After the Fresno Monsters took the first two division titles and the attached Nationals berths, the Las Vegas Thunderbirds broke that monopoly and were able to qualify for the Round of 16 last year. The Jr. Reign thus hope to make it farther than any prior Pacific Division team.

“Really proud of how hard we have worked to earn this opportunity. Three years ago I was hired the last week of July to put together a team and we were the ‘Bad News Bears’ that earned our way into the playoffs the last night of the regular season,” said Head Coach Jeremy Blumes. “In our second season, with enough time to recruit properly we had a lot more on ice success going 34-11-1-0 and moving a handful of guys on to higher levels of junior and college.”

The Jr. Reign improved yet again to 37-8-0-1 this season and finished just five points behind the regular season champion Monsters, giving Fresno a race that came right down to the last few weekends. 

“This season we are such a cohesive group,” said Blumes. “We all play to our roles. We prepare the right way. The season has flown by because we have such a great group of young men. We have grown as young men both on and off the ice, our guys have done so much in the community and I really believe that brings them closer together on the ice. We are all excited for the opportunity to compete for a National championship in Utica next week!”

The Jr. Reign’s two powerhouse scorers during the regular season carried that right into the postseason. Rhys Doyle led with 11 points in five games, while Kaedin Larocque-Wolfe put up nine points. Defenseman Baden Powell joined Nicholas Fiolleau and Tristan Friedman in also averaging at least a point per game with five apiece in five games. 

Goalie Josh Henson has been extremely solid in two series, including their 2-1 victory against Las Vegas that put them up against Fresno. Henson is 4-0 with a .952 save percentage in the postseason heading into the Nationals. He’s only been beaten five times out of 104 shots on goal.  

“We played hard in all three zones. We were disciplined. Our special teams were excellent. We received scoring up and down the lineup, with our key guys making contributions like they have all season,” said Blumes about the Fresno series. “Everyone elevated their level. Josh Henson, our goaltender, was composed and made save after save when we needed them. We were aware of our matchups and kept the league’s all time leading goal-and point-scorer [Fresno’s Noak Persson] off the score sheet. We remained focused in a hostile environment. We earned the series sweep.”

Finishing the series on Friday night, March 8, gave the Jr. Reign 13 days between that victory and their first Seeding Round game on March 21. It’s a big gulf in between games, but the Jr. Reign have seen it before. They had two big breaks between games in the regular season of 13 and 23 days, taking wins in their first games after both. 

“Getting healthy, getting rest, nutrition, hydration and continuing to practice with pace and purpose are the name of the game, not much changes,” Blumes added. 

A lot will certainly change in terms of opponents the Jr. Reign will face, though they go into their Seeding Round Day 2 with a 2-0 regular season series victory over that day’s opponent, the Vernal Oilers. The Jr. Reign defeated Vernal on an Oilers California trip in October, with Ontario winning 4-1 and 7-1 on Oct. 27 and 30, respectively. What does that mean in the grand scheme of things? Exactly diddly squat. Lineups have changed, trades have been made, players have developed and it could be a very different match-up on March 22. Vernal finished the season as Northwest Division regular season and playoff champions. 

Ontario has never faced their March 21 opponent, the Midwest West regular season division champion Wisconsin Rapids Riverkings. 

“It’s a tournament of champions – there aren’t going to be any easy matchups,” said Blumes. “We will enter each game respecting our opponent while remaining focused on our own game plan, continuing to play hard in all three zones.” 

No matter what happens, whether they play six games or the minimum three games, the Jr. Reign are going to enjoy every moment in upstate New York, knowing how much it took to get there. We’re not just talking about on the ice, it’s everything that goes into a hockey season, including the support of fans and family of the players and staff. 

“I am tremendously proud to be the coach of this collection of fine young men,” said Blumes. “There are so many people that have contributed to this championship title: our ownership group, the parents, billet families, coaching and support staff, interns, sponsors, partners, all the local musicians, fans and a special thank you to my wife, Amanda McPherson.”