#USPHLPlayoffs: Fresno Monsters vs. Ontario Jr. Reign

Pacific Division 

Ontario Jr. Reign (2) at Fresno Monsters (1)*

All Games At Gateway Ice Center, Ontario, CA

Friday, March 7, 7:45 p.m. PST 

Saturday, March 8, 6 p.m. PST*

Sunday, March 9, 5 p.m. PST (If Necessary) 

* Ontario Jr. Reign are the home team for Game 2


By Joshua Boyd / USPHLPremier.com 


One big state, two teams and just one single USPHL Nationals berth at stake. California gets the USPHL’s spotlight starting Thursday night when the Fresno Monsters play host to the Ontario Jr. Reign for the first game of a battle between the top two seeds of the Pacific Division. 

The Monsters finished at 39-5-2-0 on the season, while the Jr. Reign weren’t too far back at 37-8-0-1. The Monsters defeated the Bakersfield Roughnecks in two games, while the Jr. Reign went three games against the Las Vegas Thunderbirds. They came back from being down one game after a 5-3 loss by winning 2-1 in overtime in Game 2. Game 3 was all Jr. Reign as they won 5-0 on Sunday to close out the series. 

“I’m p\proud of how hard we competed, and we played for one another, putting the team first. Vegas has some very skilled offensive players and our attention to detail limited those players’ impact. We played with discipline and structure. As a group we all played our roles,” said Jr. Reign Head Coach Jeremy Blumes. “We had players making an impact that weren’t in the lineup the first game. We believe in our depth as a group – it’s a next man up mentality. To win our franchise’s first playoff series at home, with all of the parents and billet families in attendance offering congratulations and hugs after the game, well, it was a really special moment. It’s hard for me to put it into words but they say it takes a village and in three short seasons we have built a very special village.”

Over the course of the season, the Monsters went 4-0-2-0, losing only twice in overtime on Nov. 25 and more recently on Feb. 4. Three of the six games were one-goal decisions. Fresno went on to defeat Bakersfield 5-0 and 8-7 in overtime to start the postseason, as they try to make it three Nationals trips in four seasons, having gone to Virginia in their first season in 2021 and to New Hampshire in 2022. 

“I really liked how our team played against Bakersfield the first game. We came out fired up and that really showed,” said Monsters Head Coach Daylon Mannon. “In the second game, we knew that Bakersfield was going to come back hard, but I love how our boys did not quit and fought to the end to get the win in overtime and secure the first round without a third game.

“For round 2, we are not looking to change much up. We believe in the group we have,” Mannon added. “As I’ve said before, we do not overlook our opponents and Ontario is no different. We expect them to play a hard, tough game and I know this will be a great series for both sides.”

Let’s just say Fresno brings some offense to their game. They are third in goals for with a 7.50 per game average. Some of that may be attributable to having some of the top scorers not just in the USPHL Premier this year, but ever. Noak Persson, with his 85 goals and 147 points just this season, is No. 1 all time in single season scoring and also career scoring with 126 goals and 240 points in two years. As if that wasn’t enough, you have Emil Loov as a second 100-point scorer with a 23-80-103 line in 40 games. Eight players on the Monsters averaged at least a point per game over their full seasons, and there were two more who joined the two point per game club as Oliver Burlin-Sjostrom had 97 points in 39 games and Yegor Kabataev registered 75 points in 34 games. Burlin-Sjostrom and Loov led the team in playoff scoring in the first round with seven points apiece. 

Persson also led the team in plus-minus at +92, while defenseman Steven Blengino (84 points in 44 games) put up 29:24 per game to lead the team in ice time, and he also had a team-leading 55 blocked shots. Loov was the No. 1 guy in the faceoff circle with 651 wins for 61 percent.

Looking at the other side, Ontario doesn’t want for much offense, either. 

“Our expectations are to continue to play the OJR game – honest, hard-working, and hard in all three zones,” said Blumes. “We have a couple days of preparation and then it’s a quick turnaround. We’ll be back on the bus to travel north to compete for the Pacific Division title.”

Ontario has seven players of its own with above one point per game in a full season. Kaedin Larocque-Wolfe and Rhys Doyle both had 76 points in 46 games to tie for the team lead in scoring. Fourth-year junior veteran Tegan Neuman is a late arrival joining from the OJHL, scoring 19 points in his nine games. 

Defenseman Cooper Kantola led the team with average ice time of 25:14, while Doyle led in plus-minus at +55 and won 703 faceoffs (61 percent), and forward Eamon Julian led in blocked shots at 54.  

Josh Henson has been the No. 1 guy in net during the season for Ontario, going 15-5-0-0 with a 2.56 GAA and a .910 save percentage. In the Vegas series, he stopped 81 of 82 shots for a 2-0 record. Fresno’s Ethan Jourden went 17-2-2-0 with a .912 save percentage in the regular season, and stopped 46 of 53 against Bakersfield.