📝 by Jared Shafran | AHL On The Beat
Offense has been coming from everywhere this season for the Ontario Reign. The Los Angeles Kings’ affiliate has scored an average of four goals per game, helping lead to their best start in team history with wins in nine of their first 10 games. Now through 17 contests, Ontario has a 12-4-0-1 record and sits in second place in the Pacific Division.
Starting with a balanced schedule, the Reign have wins over each of the eight different teams they’ve faced in the Pacific Division. The results have been the exact opposite of what the team started with last season when they lost their first five games and opened the season 1-10-2 before starting to turn things around.
The most consistent offensive contributor has been Martin Frk, who is not new to seeing success in the league, but at age 29 is having his best year yet. Frk was named the AHL’s Player of the Month for November after posting 14 points on five goals and nine assists in eight games, including a week that consisted of 10 points in three games and a run of six straight multi-point games.
“Playing with really good players makes the job easy for me,” said Frk. “When you’re winning and everyone’s picking up points, which is nice, you feel good about yourself. I’m just happy it’s going in and I can help the team win more games.”
Beginning on the first day of Ontario’s training camp, Frk had an immediate chemistry with T.J. Tynan, the AHL’s most valuable player in 2020-21 who signed with the Kings over the summer after spending the last two seasons in the Colorado organization.
It didn’t take long for the two seasoned pros to get going, both registering multi-point games on opening night as Frk scored twice and Tynan notched two helpers. Tynan had points in seven of his first eight games in a Reign sweater, collecting 10 assists and 13 points.
“They’re true pros,” Reign head coach John Wroblewski said. “You have a very solid picture of what you’re going to get from those two every night. They’re physically gifted at the American League level with a mixture of a power and speed game. They couldn’t be more different with how they generate but they’re just a couple of pros that take a lot of pride in their game and we’re fortunate to have them.”
Frk has also been the team’s best weapon on the power play, which scored at least one goal in each of Ontario’s first 10 games. Teaming up with Tynan and defender Sean Durzi, the man-advantage unit has been at or near the top of the league all season and currently ranks second at 24.7 percent.
“T.J. just keeps finding me and I was lucky enough to put them in,” Frk said. It makes my job easy, the only thing I need to do is put the puck in and I’m trying to do it. I wish to have more but I’m lucky enough to have what I have and it’s a big treat. [Tynan] has been in this league for so long, he knows how to play this game and he’s a great teammate and a great player so we’re really happy we have him this year.”
Both Tynan and Durzi have earned multiple recalls to the NHL already, but the Reign haven’t missed a beat, even in their absence. Others, like the line of Vladimir Tkachev, Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Samuel Fagemo have picked up the slack and earned praise as well.
Tkachev, who initially made the Kings’ roster out of training camp, has dished out 10 assists in his first 10 games to go along with a pair of goals. Playing in his first professional year in North America, Tkachev had points in each of his first seven AHL games.
“At the American League level, he’s an elite player,” Wroblewski said. “I probably haven’t seen anybody as slick as he is. He never seems to be moving at top speed, but it’s not coasting for him, he’s still got a pretty decent gear there. He fits in with a lot of what we have, he knows how to find guys and he’s a magician on the power play.”
Centering Tkachev’s line has been Anderson-Dolan, who also earned a brief promotion to the LA squad this week. After he appeared in 34 NHL games for the Kings last season, Anderson-Dolan was assigned to the Reign during training camp and has continued to work hard, impressing with 13 points in 16 games, including four power-play goals.
Averaging just under a point-per-game offensively while often finding himself matched up against the opponent’s top line, Anderson-Dolan has been another key to the Reign’s attack down the middle.
“Obviously, our team success and the guys we have on the Reign has been pretty fun,” said Anderson-Dolan. “Individual success doesn’t happen without your teammates and I’ve been pretty lucky to play with some pretty amazing players this year.”
Along with Tkachev, the other player Anderson-Dolan has played with most often is Fagemo, another top offensive threat for Ontario. Playing in just his second North American pro season, Fagemo is second behind Frk with seven goals.
Fagemo got off to an impressive start even before the AHL campaign opened, showing off as one of the Kings’ standouts at the 2021 Rookie Faceoff in Arizona with two goals and an assist in two contests. He then scored an impressive goal in Los Angeles’ Kings vs. Kings scrimmage in Ontario and earned himself two NHL preseason appearances.
“He’s doing a really good job net-front on the power play,” said Reign assistant coach Craig Johnson, who heads up the team’s power play effort. “He’s bringing pucks to the hole and he’s giving good support for a guy who’s been pretty good on the break-ins too.
The 21-year-old native of Goteborg, Sweden, found the back of the net three times in his first five games to open the season but was held quiet in his next six contests before breaking out with a hat trick performance on Nov. 13 in Tucson.
“He’s a natural goal scorer that has a great shot and a great release,” Johnson said. “Things weren’t going in for him early, but his work ethic was there, and he was doing a lot of little details. When you commit to those details, you’re going to be rewarded in the long run.”
Madden, now in his second pro season in the Kings organization, has been at his best during the past few weeks, scoring four goals in his last four games. His rookie season was shortened to just 14 games due to injury in 2020-21, and now his consistency has made him a staple among Ontario’s top-six forwards.
For Vilardi, an excellent preseason vaulted him into the lineup for Los Angeles at the start of the campaign. But after missing action due to his time in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol, he needed an opportunity to get back on track. That’s what the Reign have offered him, placing him right at the top of the lineup.
In five AHL games, Vilardi has racked up six points and has been on the scoresheet in four of the contests. Most recently, the Kingston, Ont., native found Madden in front of the net for a key goal in the third period and then scored the winning shootout marker to give Ontario an extra point in a victory at Bakersfield on Saturday.
It’s fair to say one of the overarching themes for the Reign this season has been that offensive contributions have come off many different sticks.
“The system’s based on a team effort and being able to roll over shifts,” said Wroblewski. “That’s what we’re looking for and that’s what this club is built on is every guy being at his best because with what we ask of them, their energy mentally and physically has to be in the proper spot for us to play a great game, everybody’s got to be clicking.”