Dec. 16, 2016

SAN DIEGO – The San Diego Gulls (11-9-1-0; 23 pts.) continue a season-long five game homestand as they welcome the Stockton Heat (14-6-1-1; 30 pts.) to Valley View Casino Center tonight (7:00 p.m. on 1090-AM).

The Gulls are coming off a heartbreaking 3-2 loss at the hands of the rival Ontario Reign on Tuesday night. The two teams appeared to be headed to overtime, until Reign forward Sean Backman scored the game-winning goal with 1:35 left in regulation. Chris Wagner and Nick Sorensen both tallied for the Gulls in the defeat. Dustin Tokarski (9-5-0-0) made 29 saves in his first loss at Valley View Casino Center this season.

Tonight marks the sixth contest of the season between the Heat and Gulls. Stockton took the most recent contest by a 4-0 score on Dec. 3 as Heat goaltender David Rittich made 37 saves to earn his third shutout of the season. Stockton has proved a tough matchup for San Diego this season, taking four of the first five meetings and outscoring the Gulls by a 26-12 margin.

“They’re a really good hockey team,” said Gulls defenseman Nate Guenin. “They have a little bit of everything, big bodies that can play physical and some skill. For whatever reason they’ve had our number so we’re looking forward to this weekend and want to go into Christmas break on a good note.”

Despite its struggles against Stockton this season, San Diego is 7-6-3-1 all-time vs. the Heat, including 4-3-0 at home. Brandon Montour leads all Gulls skaters with 1-7=8 points in 15 career games vs. Stockton, while Kenny Ryan co-leads the club with three goals (3-3=6). Andrew O’Brien leads all active San Diego skaters with a plus-six rating in 14 games.

Montour has logged heavy minutes against Stockton’s best forward this season and he believes San Diego has a better idea of how to handle the Heat’s attack heading into this weekend.

“We need to stick to the details, especially against this team,” said Montour. “If we play a full 60 minutes and match their intensity, we will be fine this weekend.”

Stockton comes to Southern California as winners in four of their last five games with their most recent victory coming over Ontario as 11 different skaters recorded a point. The Heat jumped out to a 5-1 lead, before holding off a late rally by the Reign to take the game by a 5-4 score line.

Linden Vey (8-11=19) and rookie Andrew Mangiapane (6-13=19) lead Stockton with 19 points apiece. The Heat’s success this season can largely be contributed to stellar goaltending. Netminder David Rittich (6-3-0) leads the AHL with a 1.65 goals-against average (GAA) and a .941 save percentage (SV%) and goaltender Jon Gillies (7-3-2) has posted a 2.83 GAA and .904 SV%.

Following tonight’s game, the teams will be right back at it again tomorrow (7 p.m.) for the second of the weekend back-to-back. On Saturday night, the Gulls will host the second annual Teddy Bear Toss at Valley View Casino Center. Fans are encouraged to bring a new wrapped teddy bear to the game and toss their bears onto the ice when the Gulls score their first goal of the game. All bears will be donated to the San Diego Regional Law Enforcement Teddy Bear Drive to benefit Rady Children’s Hospital.

A veteran of a few Teddy Bear Tosses, San Diego veteran Jeff Schultz shared what the night will mean to him.

“It’s always fun to see the smile on kids’ faces not only at the game but the day after when we bring the bears to the hospital,” said Schultz. “That’s the whole idea. If there’s some way that we can brighten a kid’s day that’s not going too well, then we’ve done our job.”