Since the last update our feathered friends have not quite gone on the exceptional run of wins that I had most erroneously set them up for.
They have however - ended the “other” hottest teams point streak, whilst eventually vanquishing the Pacific leading Road Runners in an emphatic come-from-behind win. Much like the original Star Wars trilogy, this one started out with celebration before facing adversity and then ending with against-the-odds victory to potentially set-up ANOTHER streak.. maybe?
San Diego Gulls 2 - Chicago Wolves 1
Both the hottest teams in the league and quite possibly the two teams that feature the most former NHL players, the Gulls were looking to avenge their loss a month ago in Chicago. It was also a mid week game during the NHL 5 day bye period so the Gulls were blessed with newly returned Kevin Roy and the assumed-temporary assignment of Ondrej Kase. Despite the game being a mostly tight checking affair - Kevin Roy did manage to spark some offense with his tenacious forecheck and ability to control play with his speed down low. He didn't directly get an assist on the Gulls first goal but he set the play up by drawing players to him in the corner before feeding the point where Brian Coopers blast made it through traffic (thanks to the space Roy had created) and deflected off Boll to Carrick side of net. 1-0 Gulls. Kevin struck again just over 6 minutes later, speeding down the right side after intercepting an outlet pass at the point. His attempted pass through the slot deflecting off one of the Wolves defenders in front and past the surprised Max Lagace. Chicago managed to get one back in the 3rd on a 5 on 3 but the Gulls held on for the deserved win. This was the first game in a while in which the normally extra potent power play was completely shut out. Highlights below including a super juicy hit by Sam Carrick just after his goal.
San Diego Gulls 2 - Tuscon Road Runners 4
Jumping out to a two goal lead after the first period, it seemed like the anticipated tear that the Gulls were predicted to go on was proceeding according to schedule. Then everything fell apart. Joe Blandisi (with assists from Pettersson and Roy) and Corey Tropp had given the Gulls the initial lead but as fate would have it. The Road Runners turned the table on the Gulls special teams. Killing all seven man-advantages faced and capitalising on 2 of their 4 chances. It was a game in which once momentum was in Tuscon’s favour, they did not let up. It should be mentioned that San Diego rang the post twice in the 3rd.
San Diego Gulls 3 - Tuscon Road Runners 5
Trying to put the previous performance behind them whilst also re-energising the power play would be a tall task with the absence of both Kalle Kossila and Sam Carrick, both out of action with lower body injuries. Fiore opened the scoring from just above the hashmarks on a just-expired powerplay off of a nice cross-ice pass from Blandisi. But from there Dylan Strome took over, scoring with 30 seconds left in the first to tie it while also setting up the only goal in the 2nd. Roy got one back in the 3rd on the powerplay and Kerdiles made it 4-3 with 10 minutes left but the Road Runners held off the late charge and iced it on the empty netter in the dying seconds. Of note - with Carrick and Kossila out, Coach Eakins opted to dress 7 defenders, slotting Jeff Schultz back into the lineup who had been absent playing in the Spengler Cup. Scott Sabourin also got back into the lineup, drawing the penalty that lead to the opening score. Deven Sideroff also got in his second fight of the season and fared well for himself.
San Diego Gulls 5 - Tuscon Road Runners 3
The earliest game in Gulls reborn-history was played in Tuscon at 9am. 6am for a certain Gulls writer and so I missed the first half of the game. Lucky I did because things were looking pretty dire for San Diego. With Sam Carrick and Kalle Kossila back the lines were shuffled by Coach Eakins to spark a turn-around. Hults found himself in Kerdiles place on the top line and Kerdlies slotted in with Nattinen and White on the 2nd line. The NHL line was reformed with Roy in place of White/Boll while the only consistent line of Fiore, Carrick and Blandisi made up the 3rd. Schultz stayed in while Thompson was sat. Tuscon opened the scoring just past the halfway point of the first then proceeded to pour on more goals in the 2nd, extending their lead to 3-0 before Eric Fehr (thanks again Toronto!) got one back in the final minute of the 2nd. Things were looking like the Gulls might be headed to their 3rd straight loss (and all against a division rival they were trying to catch) when things took a turn for the Fiore. On the exact same play from the previous game, Blandisi feed cross-ice to Fiore who ripped a perfect one-timer that Aidin Hill never saw. 3-2 Tuscon. Two minutes later my homeboy Jacob Megna sprung Fiore with a beautiful lead pass and the Laval native made no mistake putting it past Hill, 3-3 tie. Just when you thought this perfect ending couldn't get any better, Fiore snapped a one-time snap-shot from his knees in the slot off a brilliant pass in front from Carrick for the 4-3 lead and the natural hat trick. Blandisi sealed it with the empty net snipe from below his own blue line and the Gulls stole a much-needed two points back. Ewoks rejoiced, Han Solo made out with Princess Leia and Hayden Christensen's ghost smirked.
Thoughts and Observations:
With 36 games played the Gulls now sit 4th in the Pacific with a 0.569 win percentage. The Rampage are just above at 0.575 and have played 4 more games. The Stockton Heat and Tuscon Road Runners are still fighting it out at the top but the Gulls 20-15-1 record has quietly put them back in the thick of things. They next face the floundering Barracuda for a back to back and could potentially leap to the top of division if they win both and both Tuscon and Stockton lose their weekend games. Overall the Gulls sit 14th in the league.
Special Teams Still Special.. But Barely
San Diego is still tops in the league on the powerplay but getting shutout for 7 opportunities and going 1 for 17 over this most recent 4 game stretch has brought it back down to earth somewhat. They now sit at 26.2% with Manitoba only 3 behind at 23.6. The Penalty Kill has not moved from its small climb last week, they are still 26th overall with 78.8%, better than last but still not great.
As is common with newly-turned-pro players, Giovanni Fiore hasn't been the most consistent. Before erupting for 4 goals in the last 2 games he hadn't registered a point in the previous 4 but here is hoping that Gio can continue this scoring outbreak. He leads all Gulls rookies in scoring with 20 points and sits 16th in AHL Rookie Goal Scoring, 23rd in points. His 4 goal outburst also now puts him 2nd on the team in goals, just two behind Fehr for the lead. The undrafted QMJHL leading scorer has proven to be a boon for the Ducks scouting brass.
I’m The Captain... When?
The Gulls have not had a Captain since the first one they named in their inaugural season in 2015. Joe Piskula played 43 games that year for the Gulls before departing for Sweden. San Diego has not had a captain since. Last year they had 3 Alternates - Megna, Guenin and Schultz while this year they seem to be rotating Megna, Carrick, Schultz and Kossila depending on who is in the line up but as yet there is no sign or hurry for that matter of giving anyone the big C. I would love to know why but if I had to guess - given the transience of hockey in the minors and the comings and goings of players from year to year, its likely an easy way of keeping things smooth throughout the constant changes. I believe Stefan Noesen would have been earmarked to be the next one had he not been lost to waivers last year.
As noted last week, Reto “Yogi” Berra appears to be back to his old self and his stats are starting to back that up. He currently sits 15th overall in save percentage with .917 despite his still average GAA of 2.71, good for 24th overall. Kevin Boyle on the other hand is 44th overall in GAA with 3.14 and 35th in SV% with 0.900. He sits 7th in rookie goaltenders for SV% and 8th for GAA. Still no sign of Leland Irving, we may have to send a search party.
Its All 6’s In Utah
Checking in on recently demoted Austin Ortega, as predicted the youngster is making an impression with the Grizzlies. He has 3 goals and 6 points in 6 games. His initial rough start of -4 in 2 games is now -6 in 6 so overall the kid seems to be well adjusted and likely about to pass the points per game mark.
Scratch Circus Continues
As mentioned last week, with too many healthy players the Gulls have resorted to rotating out scratches. From what I can gather the following have missed recent game time:
Alex Dostie - missed the last two games in Tucson, last game was the home loss to Tuscon.
Scott Sabourin - has played two games in January, the 2nd Texas game and 2nd Tuscon loss.
Mitch Hults - missed the Chicago and home Tuscon games, but played both of the last two in Tuscon.
Julius Nattinen - played in the Tuscon win but missed the at-Tuscon-loss, played in the home Tuscon loss and missed the home Chicago win. Essentially he seems to be playing every other game.
Leland Irving - has not seen the ice since November, but has backed up a couple of games in December I believe.
Its Kalle Kossila Bobblehead night! At home against the Barracuda, then its Diversity Night the following night for the finisher of the back to back.
Then the Gulls head to Bakersfield for a back to back against the Condors the following weekend.
A sneak peek at the @SDGullsAHL Diversity Night jerseys that they'll wear Saturday.— You Can Play Project (@YouCanPlayTeam) January 17, 2018
If you don't have tickets, what are you waiting for? #LetsGoGulls #YouCanPlay @TheAHL @LGBTCenter ️ ⛸
Game details: https://t.co/m1T5SqXcnU
Tickets: https://t.co/y42YNiyxbU pic.twitter.com/sUQEmCHKGR