Forward Adrian Kempe scored three goals to lead the Ontario Reign (6-1-2-0) to an emphatic 4-1 victory over the San Diego Gulls (7-2-0-0) Thursday night at Citizens Business Bank Arena.
“I was at the right place at the right time and I’m happy about that,” Kempe said. “They [my team] helped me out a lot, both the defense and the forwards.”
The three goal effort was Kempe's first professional hat trick in his brief career.
Ontario jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first period when forward Michael Mersch picked up his own rebound and tucked it underneath Gulls netminder John Gibson for his sixth goal of the season at 8:24. Defenseman Vincent LoVerde and forward Nic Dowd earned the assists.
In the middle frame, Kempe blew the game wide open, scoring all three goals, two on the power play, to dominate the period. The first goal came 87 seconds into the stanza, when forward Andrew Crescenzi found Kempe at the left circle and slid the puck past Gibson to stretch the lead to two. Crescenzi was credited with his first assist and LoVerde tacked on his second of the night.
“The win is huge. Last weekend wasn’t really that good for us and we knew we had to come out and get the two points and set the tone because we’re going to play them 11 more times and it’s going to be a great battle between us,” said Crescenzi, who finished with two power play assists on the night.
“Anything that I can do to help the team is huge and I’m trying to take on a bigger role and responsibility this year so obviously the two assists are huge and the timing was good too.”
After being outshot 10-7 in the first 20 minutes, San Diego stepped up their offense in the second, posting 12 shots on goal compared to Ontario’s nine.
At 10:13 of the same frame, defenseman Nick Ebert blasted a shot that was blocked and went right to forward Sean Backman whose rebound went to Kempe for the goal. Ebert tallied his first point of the campaign with the assist.
Forward Brian McGratton put the Gulls on the board at 12:01, tipping a shot from the point for his first goal of the season.
Two minutes later, Kempe fired a shot from the right wing circle, beating Gibson to grab his hat-trick goal on the power play with help from Crescenzi and defenseman Jeff Schultz.
“Kempe is the type of kid where you know there’s more there and I think tonight, not just because he scored three goals, you just saw the hockey sense that he has in the offensive zone and you saw his ability. I hope this is a confidence booster for him,” said Coach Mike Stothers.
Ontario finished the game 2-for-4 on the power play while San Diego went 0-for-5. Reign netminder Peter Budaj made 20 saves and Gibson stopped 21.